Monday, 30 December 2013

Book Review: Paths To Peace – Religion, Ethics and Tolerance in a Globalizing World, by Dirk Collier

I normally don’t read books on spirituality or morality or suchlike values. However, I made an exception in the case of Dirk Collier’s Paths To Peace – Religion, Ethics and Tolerance in a Globalizing World, mainly because I have read Collier’s treatise on Akbar, The Emperor’s Writings and was deeply impressed by Collier’s knowledge of India, Indian culture, Islam and Hinduism, not to mention his simple, but elegant writing style.

I was not disappointed. Paths To Peace is a masterly exposition on various strands of religious thought, the direction(s) we are being led in on account of the various organized religions we follow and Collier’s thoughts on how we may all live harmoniously amongst so much diverse thoughts and beliefs, not to mention the prevailing distrust and hatred in today’s world.

Collier analyses and compares Pakistan and the European Union. The former was created on the basis of religion and has drifted off to become an Islamic State, something far from its founder’s ideals. Currently, Pakistan is undergoing tremendous upheaval in terms of violence against the Shias, Ahmadiyyas, Hindus and other minorities. I wish Collier had commented on Israel, another state created on the basis of religion and which faces a number of unique problems, but Collier doesn’t talk about Israel. Collier tells us that unlike in the case of Pakistan, creation of the European Union has brought peace to Europe, a continent which saw extensive warfare on account of religion for many centuries between its various nation states and with neighbouring powers such as the Ottoman Empire.

Collier deals with a number of questions and issues which I am sure have perplexed almost everyone who has considered the existence of God and the relativity of moral values. Are all values relative to something else? Is it possible to argue that Hitler’s goals could be considered acceptable by some?Are moral choices avoidable? Is interreligious dialogue possible at all? Would there be any pre-conditions to such dialogue? If yes, what are they?

Collier advocates the universal principal of reciprocity as a panacea for most ills – Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you. Collier argues that even if we are sure that our point of view is right, we ought to be modest enough to admit that we might have something to learn from other people’s insights. Failure to admit others’ views leads to fanaticism, which in Collier’s view (and mine) is responsible for most of the problems faced by the world.

One of the best bits about Paths To Peace is the part (Part II) in which Collier compares three of the world’s leading religions – namely Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Collier notes that Christianity has so many plus points, in particular, its central tenet that we should love our fellow human beings. On the flip side, Christianity has created feelings of unworthiness, ineptitude and guilt in so many people, driving them to the greatest despair. Also, despite its avowed pacifism, for ninety per cent of its history, Christianity has behaved as the most violent, most imperialist and least tolerant of all religions. Christianity propagates the view that it is the only path to salvation and unlike Judaism, Christianity has always sought to convert the rest of the world. In this context, Collier looks at Pope Francis’s attempt to reach out to people of other faiths with approval, saying that ‘doing good is more important than adherence to dogmas.’

In contrast to Christianity, Islam has a simpler ideology. Also, throughout the Middle-Ages, Islam has been more tolerant and progressive than Christianity. On the flip side, Islam has the concept of naskh, whereby certain verses of the Qur’an have been revoked by others – Collier finds this problematic. Analysing Prophet Muhammad’s life, Collier finds the Prophet to be absolutely sincere and of good faith regarding his divine mission. On the other hand, the Prophet did lead many wars and raids on rival tribes, married many wives, including underage children. In short, ‘the Prophet Muhammad was very much a seventh-century Arab, whereas Jesus of Nazareth truly comes across as a timeless, almost unreal, radically peaceful prophet, whose Kingdom, as per his own words, is not of this world.’ Collier asks a number of tough questions regarding Islam, in light of the recent actions of its proponents who have taken an extreme and fundamentalist view of its tenets. The responses to his own questions from moderate Muslims, as collated by Collier, do make for interesting reading.

Collier, the humanist, has a large, warm spot for Hinduism. Even as he takes note of issues such as the caste system and the recent phenomenon of Hindutva, Collier comments that Hinduism is remarkably inclusive and pluralistic, much more than Islam or Christianity. Hinduism’s Sanatana Dharma is much more pre-occupied with attainment of freedom or liberation, through re-unification with the Divine, than with any particular set of beliefs. Hinduism is unencumbered with thoughts of apostasy, heresy, blasphemy and other ideas which still plague Islam and Christianity.

Towards the end, Collier reveals his own preference in matters of divinity, one which avoids the Paradox of Evil (if God is all powerful and all-good, how can evil exist) and the Paradox of Predestination (if God is all-knowing and knows beforehand what’s going to happen and God is all powerful, how can evil occur?). Rather than reveal anymore, I’ll leave it to you to read this wonderful book and discover Collier’s prescription for avoiding much of the evil, hatred and violence that plague the modern day world.

More an essay than a book, Paths to Peace runs to just under 200 pages in large print. I finished reading the entire book in around four hours without any break. Paths to Peace has been published by Vakils, Feffer & Simons Private Limited. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, has written its foreword.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Teacher From Kerala Who Became A Project Manager At NASA

Dr. Philip Varghese, an India born scientist who once taught Physics at the Fatima Mata National College in Kollam, Kerala, worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for close to a quarter century, during which time he worked on no less than six deep space missions, including the prestigious Mars Odyssey Project and the Mars Reconnaissance Mission. I thought it would be interesting to quiz Dr. Varghese about his achievements at NASA and his views on India’s Mars mission, for the benefit of Winnowed’s readers. Dr. Varghese very kindly agreed to answer all my questions not because he is now retired and has some free time on his hands (he is actually busier than ever) but because he happens to be my maternal uncle.

Winnowed: Dr. Varghese, what made you move to the US in the first place?
Dr. Varghese: I was working as a Physics lecturer at the Fatima Mata National College in Kerala when I applied for and received the Fulbright Fellowship. In those days, research opportunities within India were few and far in between and my primary objective was to do cutting edge research and work with the best in the field of physics. With my scholarship, I spent 6 years at the University of Oregon doing my Ph.D. program in physics. After I got my doctorate, I started to work for a privately owned company (Telos Corporation) in the computer systems field.

Winnowed: How was life at Telos? What exactly did you do there?
Dr. Varghese: At Telos, I was involved in developing software-intensive computer systems for earth-orbiting satellite systems, mainly for communications satellites. I managed the development of ground systems and then moved onto becoming business acquisition manager. In 1989, when the Division of the company I worked for moved to Washington D.C., I transferred to another Division within Telos that was supporting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL is a Federally Funded Research & Development Center (FFRDC) of NASA and is managed by California Institute of Technology (Caltech). It is the world leader in developing and conducting deep space missions. So this became a great opportunity for me to work in deep space exploration.

Winnowed: So Telos was your stepping stone to NASA? When exactly did you join NASA?
Dr. Varghese: In January 1989, . I started my career at JPL as a contract employee working on the Mars Observer mission, the first of the Observer series of planetary missions, designed to study the geoscience and climate of Mars. I started my association with the Mars Observer project as a systems engineer for the development of its missions operations system. Mars Observer spacecraft was launched on 25 September 1992. Just before the launch, in August 1992, I joined JPL as a full time employee and was assigned to the Mars Observer project as the Assistant Flight Engineering Office Manager. Unfortunately, the Mars Observer mission ended abruptly when contact with the spacecraft was lost on 21 August 1993, three days before the scheduled insertion into the Mars orbit. It was a very big disappointment to me personally, since this was my first deep space mission. JPL had to reassign a large number of personnel from the project to other jobs and I became a Group Supervisor in the Engineering & Science Directorate, a position I continued for 2 years. After a few other assignments, I joined the 2001 Mars Odyssey Project as its Project Manager. Odyssey is a Mars orbiting mission. In June 2010, I took over as Project Manager of the Mars Reconnaissance Mission, another Mars orbiting mission. During my tenure as the Project Manager for these two Mars missions, I also supported the on-going twin Mars Exploration Rover missions and the Mars Curiosity Rovermission which has been roaming Mars for more than a year now. I retired from JPL in February 2013 and ended a career that spanned 24 years and working on at least half a dozen deep space missions.

Winnowed: Wow! And has JPL been a good employer? Do you feel your efforts and hard work have been recognized?
Dr. Varghese: JPL is a great place to work and grow your talents. It is quick to recognize good work and leadership capabilities. I received promotions rapidly and received much recognition for meritorious performance. This year, JPL selected me for the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for my leadership of the Mars Reconnaissance Mission. This is the second time I was bestowed with this very prestigious award. The previous Outstanding Leadership Medal was for my work on the Deep Space One mission as its Mission Operations Manager.

Winnowed: Could you describe a typical day for me, say when you worked on the Mars Odyssey Project or the Mars Reconnaissance Mission?
Dr. Varghese: Interplanetary mission operations require round-the-clock attention and, although my workday started at 6:30 AM and ended at 4:00 PM, (that is being in the office) I was, for all practical purposes 24/7 all the time. . But we found ways to reduce the load on each individual, by sharing responsibilities and trusting the people who were in charge while I was not physically present at the Lab. My job required a lot of coordination among various support organizations at JPL (e.g., the Deep Space Network, our telemetry & tracking stations) as well as within the MRO team. There were a lot of meetings everyday, discussing various aspects of the mission and deciding courses of action. We plan our operations on a 2-week cycle and design and implement the spacecraft & science instrument activities to accomplish that plan. It requires very intensive work involving several dozen engineers and scientists, and careful integration of the activities to not violate any spacecraft & instrument operational restrictions. A serious error could lead to potential harm to the flight system and even to end of mission. It is pretty stressful!

Winnowed: What was your happiest day at JPL?
Dr. Varghese: There are several: The day we launched the Mars Observer spacecraft. The day we successfully started the Ion Propulsion System on the Deep Space 1 mission. The day we recovered the Odyssey mission from a mission-ending catastrophe. The day the Odyssey mission received signals from the twin Mars Exploration Rovers indicating they landed on Mars successfully and the Mars Reconnaissance Mission received signals from the Mars Curiosity Rover indicating it landed on Mars successfully.

Winnowed: And your saddest?
Dr. Varghese: It was the day we lost the Mars Observer spacecraft. It happened all of a sudden. The spacecraft was about to begin pressurizing its fuel tanks in preparation for the Mars orbit-insertion maneuver when contact with the spacecraft was lost. We never heard from it again and we never found out definitively why we lost contact with the spacecraft. A lot of us put a lot of effort (Herculean, you may say!) to do that mission. It would have been the finest mission if it hadn’t failed.

Winnowed: Tell me Dr. Varghese, why do Mars missions? Do you think it’s worth it for the taxpayer, considering the expenses involved?
Dr. Varghese: Mars has been the object of human fascination for a very long time. With the invention and development of the telescope during the 1600s, increasingly detailed views of Mars from Earth became possible. These early observations revealed color changes on the surface of Mars that were erroneously attributed to seasonal vegetation.These observations also indicated some apparent linear surface features and these were attributed to intelligent design, leading to the belief, right or wrong, that there must be life on Mars.Further telescopic observations led to the discovery of the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, the polar ice caps, and the feature now known as Olympus Mons, the solar system's tallest mountain.

Recent interest to explore Mars is rooted in human curiosity to understand what happened to Mars over the years.We now know that Mars is a rocky planet, like Earth. It was formed around the same time, yet with only half the diameter of Earth.It has a far thinner atmosphere and it has a cold and desert-like surface. It is believed that a few billions of years ago, Mars probably looked more like Earth does now. The present-day atmosphere of Mars, composed mostly of carbon dioxide, is extremely thin, with atmospheric pressure at the surface just 0.6% of the Earth's surface pressure.Today, Mars is quiescent geologically, but its atmosphere breathes and changes from year to year, interacting in complex ways with the water sequestered in Mars' ice caps and permafrost. One of the goals of current Mars exploration missions is to learn how the modern Mars works– how the geological processes of Mars created its unique composition. Comparing the same geological processes of Mars and Earth should help us to understand how Mars’ history has influenced its present state, leading us topredict what to expect on Earth in the future.

Since 1996, Mars exploration has undergone a Renaissance, with data from multiple Mars orbiters and landed missions providing a revolutionary new view of Mars as an Earth-like planet with a complex geologic history. We now know Mars better than any planet in the solar system other than our own, yet we have more questions than ever.

Evidence suggests that Mars once had a much denser atmosphere.The Martian landscape retains channels that were evidently cut by abundant, flowing water - proof that the planet had a much denser atmosphere in the past.The planet was likely shrouded in a thick blanket of gases that supported the presence of liquid water at its surface. Today, the air pressure is so low that free water would instantly boil away. The most likely explanation for the loss in Mars atmosphere is that the solar wind - the great outflow of energetic particles from the Sun - has simply eroded it through time. This has been possible because, unlike Earth, Mars lacks a protective global magnetic field, which is capable of deflecting the energetic particles from the Sun.

We know that water does not flow on Mars today, but it evidently has in the past. So one of the most important questions behind Mars exploration is: has there ever been the right combination of liquid water, available energy, and time to permit life to begin on Mars?

Winnowed: And for a country like India, which faces a number of other challenges, such as the need to uplift a large percentage of its population from poverty, do you think it makes sense to invest in a Mars mission?
Dr. Varghese: Of course it does. Any scientific and engineering endeavor like the Mars mission adds not only to the prestige of the country, but also to the development of technologies for progress.

Winnowed: What are the main challenges in doing Mars missions?
Dr. Varghese: In general, engineering interplanetary missions is very difficult and complicated.Mars has historically been unfriendly to human attempts to explore it. Although more missions have been attempted to Mars than to any other place in the Solar System except the Moon, nearly two-thirds of all Marsexploration attempts have failed before completing their missions.Phrases like "Mars Curse" or "Martian Curse" were introduced to explain away the high failure rate. Fictitious space monsters, such as "Galactic Ghoul" or "Great Galactic Ghoul", that eat away Mars probes, were invented to "explain" the recurring difficulties.

Winnowed: What advice would you give a youngster who wants to become a rocket scientist? What’s the best way to go about it?
Dr. Varghese: Do good school work. Have a great ambition and aspiration. Concentrate on engineering and science studies. Have a great attitude to conquer new areas of human development.

Winnowed: Would you have any advice for Indian policy makers?
Dr. Varghese: India has done exceedingly well in developing a smart space program. It must continue to invest in this endeavor. There has been a greater emphasis, it appears, on the military aspects of its space program. Civilian space applications should be given equal priority. Policy makers should do all they can do to retain the talent in India and they should channel enough resources into R&D. India should do more to strengthen fundamental scientific research at the grassroots level, I mean in colleges across the country.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: The Escape Artist: A Gibraltarian Novel, by M. G. Sanchez

M. G. Sanchez’s writing harks back to an era when writers (I am reminded of Thomas Hardy) wrote stories about real people who could have existed, for people who had the time, patience and leisure to read lengthy tales and the good taste to not expect a thrilling end. If you have read Sanchez before, you would know that he attaches no small measure of importance to his (and his characters) Gibraltarian identity, the “Britishness” of Gibraltarians and how a Gibraltarian is not, by any stretch of imagination, a Spaniard.

However, The Escape Artist: A Gibraltarian Novel, is not really about Gibraltar even though approximately half of it is set on the Rock. Rather, it is the story of a unique relationship between two young men from disparate backgrounds. Brian Manrique is a home-sick, working class Gibraltarian, plodding his way through Cambridge on a scholarship when he espies a fellow Gibraltarian, Henry Portas, amongst those hallowed portals. Henry Portas is very rich and very savvy, as different from Brian as chalk is from cheese. The resulting friendship between the two young men is one that’s meant for analysis by behavioural scientists. Even though The Escape Artist is a “realistic” novel, Sanchez does stretch his writer’s licence to the outer limits as he spins a yarn about the growing friendship between Henry and Brian and their various escapades.

Amongst the tussle between two diverse personalities of the same age, Sanchez’s angst about Gibraltar, its place in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its relations with Spain, constantly shines through. The border between Spain and Gibraltar, a little longer than a kilometre, is open for crossings these days, but it wasn’t so in the 1970s, the period in which The Escape Artist is set. When, towards the end of the novel, Brian needs to make a trip to Spain, he is forced to take a ferry to Tangiers in Morocco to get to Algeciras in Spain, a journey of many hours, which could have been accomplished in minutes if the border weren’t closed. Incidentally, the Spanish-Gibraltarian border crossing is in the news these days.

One of the best things about The Escape Artist is Sanchez’s portrayal of life in the 1970s in the UK in general and Gibraltar in particular. Brian Manrique might have acquired a Cambridge degree (in Modern Languages), but has very few career options at the end of it all, largely on account of his working class, Gibraltarian background. He returns to Gibraltar, to live with his mother and sister in their council flat, and embarks on a job-hunt which appears to be hopeless until he is interviewed for an assistant’s position in a library and the chief interviewer turns out to be a distant relative. Brian’s teenage sister does something which I assume was not very uncommon in Gibraltar in those days – to the consternation of her mother and brother, she dates a British soldier posted on the Rock and gets pregnant. Since we are in the 1970s, she does eventually marry her man and follow him around the world on his postings. On the other hand, the rich folks, even in Gibraltar, seem to lead very comfortable lives.

Sanchez’s writing is more functional and simple than flowery or ornate. At times I did wish that it was a little bit more of the latter – a literary work of this magnitude would not be badly served with a few dollops of literary flourishes, but on the whole, The Escape Artist reads well and gets you to the meat of the story in a direct fashion. The ending, when you get there, is unexpected, but realistic to the core. Sanchez does not pander to the galleys when he drops the curtains on yet another excellent book from his writing desk.

The Escape Artist: A Gibraltarian Novel is available on Kindle.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Conversation With Sayed Ahmed Raza, My Friend From Bangladesh

My friend Sayed Ahmed Raza is a founding partner at Ahmed & Farooq LP, a leading law firm in Bangladesh. Raza, as we called him at the National Law School of India University, was a couple of years my junior and graduated from NLSIU in the year 2000. I haven’t seen Raza since 1998, the year I graduated, but we’ve always managed to keep in touch, thanks to emails, facebook and skype. Recently Raza conveyed some sound bytes to be posted on Winnowed.

Winnowed: Career-wise, what have you done since your graduation from NLSIU in 2000?

Raza: Immediately after I came back, I worked as the co-ordinator for a project run by the Bangladesh Bar Council called “Human Rights Lawyering for Young Lawyers.” It involved coordinating the activities of 78 local Bar Associations and travelling to all parts of my country. I thoroughly enjoyed the job, which lasted for a year. I then started practising in Dakha and did a mix of criminal and civil litigation. More of the former than the latter. In 2002, I went to Khartoum in Sudan to work for the United Nations Development Programme for Refugees. I was there for two and a half years, helping Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees who had escaped to Sudan to escape the turmoil in their own countries. On my return, I resumed my litigation practice. I co-founded Ahmed & Farooq LP in the year 2007. These days, I do some non-litigation work – drafting agreements etc., but my mainstay is still litigation and arbitration.

Winnowed: Can you please cite an interesting case you have been involved in?

Raza: Recently our Supreme Court awarded the death sentence to one Abdul Quader Molla for his role in the 1971 genocide. Prior to his conviction, Molla had filed a defamation claim against certain politicians for the statements they made against him. I defended two of those politicians, namely Ms. Syeda Sajeda Choudhury, the Deputy Leader of Parliament and Ms. Motia Chowdhury, a Minister, against those defamation claims.

Winnowed: What made you choose NLSIU?

Raza: I come from a family of lawyers. Both my grandfathers were lawyers and my father is a leading Senior Counsel in Dhaka as well as President of the Bongabandhu Angibi Parishad. NLSIU is rather well-known among the legal fraternity in Bangladesh – even in 1995 when it was relatively new and the only National Law School in India. Students from Bangladesh have traditionally gone to the UK for their legal studies. I decided to give NLSIU a shot, just to do something different.

Winnowed: Did you consider taking up a job in India after graduation?

Raza: No. I was always clear that I wanted to return to Dhaka and practice law here.

Winnowed: Was it difficult to qualify in Bangladesh with an Indian law degree?

Raza: Not for me. In Bangladesh, just as in India, only Bangladeshi citizens can become advocates. One needs to take an enrolment exam for this purpose. Actually two exams, one to qualify to practice in the lower courts and the second one, which can be taken only if an advocate has at least two years’ post qualification experience, to practice in the High Court and Supreme Court. Since I had an Indian degree, I applied to the Bar Council for my degree to be recognised, which it did without raising any issue, after which I could take the first enrolment exam. I did that immediately on my return.

Winnowed: Please name a few people who have a made a big difference to your life.

Raza: My father, Abdul Baset Majumdar has made the biggest difference to my life. He has been my role model ever since I can remember.

Winnowed: If you were to advice other Bangladeshi students who are considering an Indian law degree, what would you tell them?

Raza: I would say that a law degree from a leading National Law School in India would give every budding lawyer a head-start in terms of developing analytical skills and learning the fundamentals of law, which are common for all common-law countries.

Winnowed: What’s your happiest memory from your time in Bangalore?

Raza: I have very happy memories of my time in the Men’s Halls of Residence. Every day was a special day. I will never forget my mates from those wonderful days.

Winnowed: And your saddest or the most unhappy experience?

Raza: I don’t remember any.

Winnowed: Your family?

Raza: I have been blessed with two daughters, Rifah Shahana Majumder and Rameen Shahanna Majumder . My wife Shahana Rahmatullah Annie is very supportive.

Winnowed: What are your hobbies?

Raza: Music, movies and reading Bangla newspapers

Winnowed: One last question - What do you think can be done to improve Indo-Bangladeshi relations?

Raza: India has changed a lot since the time it helped us win independence. The middle-classes in India do not hate Bangladesh. The Indian judiciary believes in fair play. For example, in the case of The Chairman, Railway Board & Ors vs Mrs. Chandrima Das & Ors [January, 2000], the Indian Supreme Court awarded compensation to a Bangladeshi girl who was raped in the Howrah Railway station. However, we also have instances like the case of Felani Khatun where no action has been taken. One gets the feeling that the common man in India does not have much goodwill towards us. To some extent, it is the politicians’ job to educate the masses, but I also understand that it is not an easy task. In Bangladesh, there is a big split between moderates like me who want democracy and have good relations with India and the supporters of the fundamentalist Jamaat e Islami who want Shariah rule.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Notes from the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon 2013

It’s been a little over two weeks since I ran the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon 2013 (VVMM). Three of my toe nails are still bluish-black (I think I will lose them) and my hopes of running a sub-five marathon lie shattered. This was my second full-marathon – I had taken 5:24 hrs to complete the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2012 (SCMM) and I thought I would easily do the VVMM in under 5 hours. I had trained reasonably well and everything was fine for the first half. The crowds were lovely and lined the entire road from Virar till Vasai. There were school kids out with banners, dressed in their school uniforms, most definitely instructed to turn up by their schools, there were housewives in their night gowns, men with stubbles, rubbing off the sleep from their eyes and even a few groups of ethnically dressed performers, dancing to the beat of drums and dholaks. There were water stations every kilometre or so and at a few places they even handed out oranges and biscuits. The route was very scenic – parts of it reminded me of Kerala’s landscape. As we ran, we could hear church bells peal at a number of places as the good people of Virar and Vasai attended Sunday mass.

I crossed the half-way mark in around 2:20 hrs and then things started going downhill. Unlike the SCMM which starts at 5:45 a.m., the VVMM started at 6:45 a.m. I guess it couldn’t be helped since a large number of runners are from Mumbai and it takes a while to reach the starting point at Virar. Secondly, the SCMM is held in January, whilst the VVMM is in October, the peak of what can be called Mumbai’s second summer. It’s hot and humid and there are long stretches with no shade. The third big difference between the SCMM and the VVMM, and this is a really big one, is that for the former, the roads are closed to traffic for the entire 6 hours one is given to complete the full marathon. At the VVMM, the roads were opened to traffic barely two hours after the marathon started. By 10:30 a.m., traffic was in full flow.

I guess this happens in all tier two marathons. The second half of the run was pure hell. It was not just on account of the traffic, heavy enough at times to force me to walk rather than run, or even the weather. As I started to run back towards Virar from Vasai, the water stations started to disappear. Even the many balloon bunches that lined the route, which I relied on for directions, were taken down much before the 6-hour cut-off. I once lost my way a little bit and ran for around 200 metres in the wrong direction before someone corrected me and sent me back. At a few places, I had to stop and look for signs or ask for directions before running on. Towards the end, around one kilometre before the end, I saw a runner ahead of me fail to take a u-turn (because the signs weren’t clear and there was no one around to direct him) and run a hundred odd metres extra before he turned back. The sweeper van meant to pick up stragglers who wanted to drop out was in operation much before the 6 hour deadline. I was asked at least three times by enthusiastic young men if I wanted a ride to the finishing point, something I found to be very dispiriting to say the least. The first time I was asked was around the four hour mark, when I was going strong, at least so I felt. Once on a crowded pavement, a man asked me if I would like to sit down, rest and eat something. It took me a second to realise that I was talking to a shop-keeper and move on. These little things do matter. Marathons are not just for the elite runners. I feel that that the organisers ought to have considered the recreational runners who make up the bulk of the participants before shutting shop so early. On the positive side, there were pilots on motor-bikes who darted back and forth and supplied us with directions and water (which made up for the absence of water stations) till the end.

I thought of giving up many times, but ultimately I didn’t. For personal reasons, I won’t be able to take part in SCMM 2014 and I needed to complete the VVMM within the cut-off time to be eligible for SCMM 2015. I tried to motivate myself by imagining that I was a Viet Cong guerrilla running along the Ho Chi Minh trail, a Spetsnaz commando on a killer mission, a US Navy SEAL running stealthily behind enemy lines, an NSG Black Cat Commando on a mission to free hostages held by suicidal terrorists, a warrior in a Zulu impi marching towards Isandlwana. None of that really worked. Ultimately I finished just inside the cut-off time because I had posted details of my run on facebook and didn’t want to lose face in front of my facebook “friends”. I ran because I didn’t want to tell my office colleagues that I couldn’t last the course and had chickened out. I ran on, a week after my 39th birthday, fuelled by my ego and the painful awareness that it would cost me a lot to prepare for and run a full, timed marathon once again before registrations started for SCMM 2015.

I completed in 5:49:10 hrs, wearing bib number 205. My results, with splits etc., are available on this site. Please choose Vasai – Virar Marathon 2013 and enter my bib number 205 for my results.

I am unable to write about an event like this without a few words regarding the toilet facilities, in my opinion one of the best criteria to judge organisers of such events. I got to the starting point around fifteen minutes before kick-off and asked for the nearest toilet. I was directed to one inside the large building to my right. It looked dirty with what looked like a large piece of human dung inside. I gingerly prepared to pee and the large piece of dung moved, trying to jump out. It was a frog! To be fair to the organisers, that toilet was not meant for the participants. Enroute, I found a set of portable toilets around the fifteen kilometre mark. Neat, clean and easy to use, I never saw another set of such toilets till I finished and entered the resting place for the participants, which had a similar set of toilets. However, I didn’t need to use a toilet on the return leg since it was so very hot and humid. I wouldn’t have minded if I could have relieved myself much before the fifteenth kilometre, but the entire route was so lined with cheering people that I never found a spot where I was by myself with some cover.

Before I conclude, there’s one special request I have for the organisers. During the first half of the marathon, along with the crowds that lined the route, there were loud speakers belting out popular music. Even when the crowds weren’t there, especially as we neared the half-way mark, loud speakers played songs at full blast. I can’t say I am speaking on behalf of all runners, but for me, when I run, silence is a blessing and loud music is something I treat on par with air pollution from vehicle fumes. The loud music played from those speakers gave me a headache. Please note, I am not talking of the sounds made by those cheering kids or even the drummers. I am only talking of the large black loudspeakers which made such a racket for the entire 21 kilometre stretch during the first half. Please dispense with them for the next event, if you don’t mind.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Book Review: The Blood Telegram – India’s Secret War in East Pakistan, by Gary J. Bass

The 1971 Bangladesh War which led to an independent Bangladesh was post-independence India’s finest hour. Coinciding with the Vietnam War, arguably America’s worst decade since the Second World War, events in Bangladesh gave the Americans an opportunity to do the ‘right’ thing, an opportunity which Nixon’s and Kissinger’s America did not fail to miss. Gary Bass, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, has written a meticulously researched book which lays out the innards of US policy making during those tumultuous days. It is well-known that Nixon (as advised by his National Security Advisor Kissinger) viewed the conflict strictly in terms of the cold war struggle with the Soviet Union. Behind such ruthlessness and cold manipulations lay Nixon’s affection and admiration for Yahya Khan, a man he compared to Lincoln, and his contempt for India, which he thought needed a good famine. Just as Lincoln had fought to maintain the USA’s unity, Nixon expected Yahya to fight to keep East Pakistan. Asking Yahya to deal with the Awami League leaders in Calcutta was, for Nixon, akin to expecting Lincoln to deal with Jefferson Davis.

Nixon thought the Indians were as much at fault as the Pakistanis. Time and again he threatened to cut off aid to India and he actually did so once the war started. The US threat carried some weight - despite so much animosity towards India, the US was giving India more aid than the rest of the world combined. Just before the war started, the US cut off 70% of the most crucial military aid – around USD 17 million – grounding India’s C119 transport planes and stopping all ammunition. Nixon also ended funding for a food program and stopped a loan amounting to USD 100 million.

However, the USA still had a few good men who wanted to do the right thing. One such man was Archer Blood, the American consul-general in Dacca (as the city was then known). A humanist, Blood sent cable after cable to his superiors pleading with them to act to restrain the Pakistani government from continuing with its suppression of democracy. He was ignored. At the cost of this career, Blood sent a “dissent cable” (permitted by law since the Vietnam War in order to encourage insiders to speak out) signed by 29 colleagues saying: “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy.

Bass, who went through many hundreds of hours of de-classified White House tapes and interviewed dozens of officials in India and the US to write the Blood Telegram, tells us that Archer Blood’s career did suffer. However, his cables were leaked to the press and did raise a hue and cry. Blood was not the only good American who helped the Bengali cause. Senator Edward Kennedy visited India, along with American experts on development and refugee relief who could attest to the malnourishment and misery underwent by the refugees. Travelling on transport provided by the Indian government (which laid out the red carpet), he visited many refugee camps. When he got back to the US, Ted Kennedy announced that he had seen the ‘the most appalling tide of human misery in modern times.' The Concert for Bangladesh organised by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison at Madison Square Garden four months before the start of the war added to the growing chorus against supporting Pakistan.

However, Nixon and Kissinger held their ground and after the war started going badly for Pakistan, resorting to extreme brinksmanship to prevent an Indian assault against West Pakistan after the surrender in the East. The US supported Pakistan not just because it felt India had strayed into the Soviet camp, but also because Nixon and Kissinger thought that Yahya Khan made the perfect courier for establishing ties with Zhou Enlai’s China. Discarding the option of using the Romanians or even the French to establish a link with Peking, Kissinger had Yahya carry messages to Peking and even spread a canard that Kissinger was laid up ill in Pakistan while on a visit so that he could fly to Peking and meet with Zhou Enlai. Kissinger was astounded by Zhou Enlai’s animosity and vituperative hatred towards India. Putting a match to such gunpowder came naturally to Kissinger. Pledging his support for Pakistan, Zhou Enlai suggested that the 1962 Chinese defeat of India could possibly be repeated. When the war finally started on 3 December 1971, the Chinese did not seriously threaten India. If they had, China would have opened itself to the possibility of attack from a million Soviet soldiers on its borders. In any event, the Indians had taken care to wait till the mountains were impassable with snow.

At the end of it all, one is left with no doubt that to the list of victims of US imperialism such as Vietam, Laos, Cambodia and Chile should be added Bangladesh. Also, that Kissinger should be tried for his role in such callous disregard of human rights, akin to any war criminal.

The Blood Telegram is interesting not only for the exposure of the politically incorrect dialogue (by today’s standards) which emerges from those White House tapes – the word ‘rape’ is used often, in the context of what India did to Pakistan, but also for snippets such as that Indian generals shared some of their Pakistani counterparts’ stereotypes about Bengali cowardice and were not very impressed with Bengali fighters. General Sam Manekshaw is quoted as saying, ‘you Bengalis run, you don’t fight.

Despite India having excellent relations with most of the developing world, India received little or no support from countries outside the Iron Curtain. The entire Arab world, Iran and other Islamic countries sided with Pakistan, taking the line that maintaining Pakistan’s unity was of paramount importance. Yugoslavia was an exception as was (unsurprisingly) Israel, though Indian did not have diplomatic ties with Israel at that time. Iran and Jordan went to the extent of sending their US supplied fighter planes to Pakistan, on the secret understanding with Nixon-Kissinger that any loss would be replaced by the United States. Bass argues that such a move, just another example of cow-boy style behaviour from the Nixon-Kissinger duo, was in breach of US law, which forbade the US from giving military aid to Pakistan, either directly or indirectly.

When Nixon sent the USS Enterprise sailing towards the Bay of Bengal, he had no intention of ever resorting to force against India. US public opinion would not have accepted such action, Bass tells us. Unlike India’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant which relied on a steam boiler, the USS Enterprise was nuclear powered and could sail around the world without refuelling. INS Vikrant was lucky if its boiler worked. Three months before the war, the Indian navy had declared INS Vikrant inoperable, since it had a crack in its boiler. However, the boiler was patched up and INS Vikrant took part in the blockade of Chittagong. Not only was the USS Enterprise five times the size of INS Vikrant, one of its escorts the Tripoli was bigger than INS Vikrant. Nevertheless, India did not fall for the US bluff and held its nerve.

The Soviet Union too was not very keen that India should get involved in a war with Pakistan over Bangladesh, but once the war started, it stood by India and kept vetoing Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire. The Indians knew that the Soviet Union would not apply its veto indefinitely. In the meantime, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire. 104 countries voted in favour and only 11 voted against it. Even Yugoslavia voted for the ceasefire. Thankfully for India, General Assembly resolutions aren’t binding. Finally on 13 December, the Soviets informed India that there would be no more vetos in the Security Council. By that time, India managed to squeeze out a surrender from Lt. General Niazi

Bass notes that, unlike in the case of Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger were able to deflect any blame for their behaviour during the Bangladesh War. Two years after the Bangladesh War, just after he became secretary of state, a Gallup Poll found that Kissinger was the most admired person in the US. Bass notes with sadness that when Mujib Ur Rehman was assassinated in August 1975 and military rule imposed in Bangladesh, India happily kept up normal ties with the new military ruler, despite having intervened in the name of democracy a few years earlier. On the whole, Bass seems to find Indians genuine and altruistic, while also scheming and manipulative, though he doesn’t say so in as many words.

Every time I read a book relating to Bangladesh, I keep asking myself a fundamental question - why aren’t India and Bangladesh better friends than they are? Why is it that within five years of the liberation of Bangladesh, in January 1976, Bangladesh re-established ties with Pakistan? Did the Pakistani army actually kill three million civilians during their crackdown on the liberation movement? To use an analogy, let’s assume that a Nazi Government had continued to be in power in defeated Germany after the Second World War. Would Israel have good relations with such a country? Why do so many Bangladeshis want to have, as good a relationship with Pakistan, as with India? Why are so many Bangladeshis friendlier towards Pakistan than towards India? Why is the Bangladesh National Party able to flourish in Bangladesh, even gaining power on a few occasions, despite being inimical towards India and friendlier towards Pakistan and despite being allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami which had collaborated with West Pakistan and opposed Bangladeshi independence? All these questions I had raised in this post dated March 2009.

The Blood telegram provides one important clue to the answers I’ve been looking for though it does not go out of the way to comment on the actual number of deaths which took place, other than saying that in June 1971, the USS State Department estimated that around two hundred thousand people had been killed. According to Bass, most of the victims of the Pakistani army were Hindus. Eighty or ninety percentage of the refugees were Hindus and the Pakistani army did everything possible to encourage the exodus. As Kenneth Keating, the US Ambassador to India explained to President Nixon, who couldn’t care less, the reason the refugees kept coming at the rate of 150,000 a day was ‘because they were killing the Hindus.’ According to Keating, at first the killings had been indiscriminate. After the Pakistani army got control of the large centres, the Pakistani army carried out a specific genocide against the Hindus. There was widespread rape, which again specifically targeted the Hindus. Hindu houses were marked with yellow H signs, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Nazi victimisation of the Jews.

The answer I have been looking for could be this. If Pakistani forces had indiscriminately killed Muslims and Hindus, Bangladesh’s collective consciousness would not permit good relations with Pakistan. However, except for the murder of some Muslim intellectuals, most of the victims of the Pakistani army were Hindus. Most of the relatives of those victims no longer live in Bangladesh (since they fled to India as refugees and never returned) and thus it is relatively easy for the current population of Bangladesh to accept Pakistan as just another fellow Islamic country.

On the question of whether three million Bengalis actually died at the hands of troops from West Pakistan, Sarmila Bose’s Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War seeks to provide some answers.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Book Review: Where The Rainbow Ends by Anurag Anand

Anurag Anand, author of exciting books such as the Legend of Amrapali and Of Tattoos and Taboos! has come up with yet another good un. Anand’s third novel, Where The Rainbow Ends, combines good story telling with a complex plot and a surprise ending that is tailor-made for conversion into a movie.

Rahul Singh, so very middle class that his middle name could be M, thinks he is so very lucky to have won the heart of rich brat Shalini. Things get even better when, thanks to Shalini’s father’s influence, Rahul gets the sort of job he would not have even dreamed of, considering his MBA from a second tier institution. Rahul and Shalini live well and party hard. Marriage isn’t a bed of roses and soon Shalini’s addiction to alcohol and her natural petulance push them into troubled waters. Myra comes along, but the birth of the child fails to save Rahul’s marriage. Rahul fights hard to win custody of Myra and he wins, but his is left almost penniless as a result. His fabulous job, the direct result of his father-in-law’s influence, is yanked off.

When Rahul is wallowing in the doldrums, Avantika comes along, draped in an air hostess’s costume, but actually an angel in disguise. Rahul starts to believe he has found a rainbow and Myra too. When Myra is diagnosed with aplastic anemia, it is Avantika who stands by the father-daughter duo, pledging not only moral support, but also her own hard cash. Then suddenly Avantika vanishes from their lives. The billion dollar question is, is Shalini to blame for Avantika’s disappearance? Rahul has reason to suspect Shalini since Shalini has launched a second attempt to regain custody of Myra, citing Rahul’s inability to afford the expensive treatment needed to treat Myra’s condition. Rahul makes a desperate attempt to trace Avantika, though Myra and her illness weigh him down.

India has a number of very good writers who are second to none in their ability to write well in English. However, many of them suffer from a singular handicap, namely, the inability to spin a good yarn. Anand is one of those who stand out from the crowd, with his remarkable ability to concoct a good tale in functional, unadorned English that can hold the reader’s attention till the end.

An excellent book, please read Where The Rainbow Ends to find out why Avantika disappeared and if Rahul is successful in finding her.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Book Review: The Spy Who Lost Her Head by Jane De Suza

What happens when a Jane Austenesque village damsel (albeit garishly dressed by Victorian or modern day standards) comes to Mumbai in the hope of landing herself a husband, but instead ends up holding the severed head of a murder victim? Well, in the hands of the very talented Jane De Suza, the damsel (who goes by the colourful name Gulabi) would have a series of adventures culminating in a grand finale where the vivacious Gulabi brings proceedings to a graceful closure.

Pretty soon after Gulabi reaches Mumbai, fourteen suitcases in tow, she finds her ideal man, an Engineer-MBA, soon rechristened Bemba (Bemba as in BE, MBA). Actually, she literally lands right on top of him and immediately starts wooing him with fried brinjals etc., a process made doubly easy since he’s her landlord. The nice and slim Tanya makes up the third resident in their home and we are told that though Gulabi and Tanya have very little in common, they get along very well. Actually, we see them get along exceedingly well, amidst many howls, screams, tantrums and mishaps.

Gulabi’s acquisition of the severed head - it actually belongs to one Sunder Raj, a journalist who made the mistake of exposing corruption in high places – doesn’t change Gulabi all that much. She continues wooing Bemba and is wooed in turn by many men.
In a book where everything is over the top, De Suza’s style of writing made me feel I was reading an adult version of something akin to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Tom and Jerry series of animated cartoons. Gulabi’s emphasis on Queen’s English and her total confidence in her looks and virtues makes her a lovable character, but I got the feeling all along that Gulabi was unlikely to crack the case with her skill and intuition, the way murder mysteries are usually resolved. I turned out to be wrong. As I waited for providence to dump (or shower) answers on Gulabi, De Suza poured some additional intelligence into Gulabi to make her a wee bit cleverer than I would have given her credit for initially and the resolution of the case did add to Gulabi’s glory.

De Suza’s writing, which at times reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, is partly small-town pidgin (when spoken by Gulabi), partly frivolous and when spoken by the narrator, it's 100% Queen’s English, elegant, prim and very proper. The Spy Who Lost Her Head is definitely not your traditional murder mystery where a serious detective grimly gets on with the task of solving the crime, as bullets fly around him or her. Nevertheless, I found it to be a good read, though I am usually a sucker for grim, serious, deadly, detective stories in which bullets rain down on the detective and bombs explode all around (without doing any real harm). Does Gulabi win Bemba? How exactly does she resolve the murder of a wronged journalist and send the culprit to face his just desserts? Do read this very readable book to find out for yourself.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Book Review: The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 2: Kaurava by Krishna Udayasankar

Just over a year ago, when I finished reading Govinda, the first book from Krishna Udayasankar’s Aryavarta Chronicles, I knew that I would not be able to resist the rest of the Chronicles. A few days ago, Flipkart delivered Kaurava, Book 2 and I jumped right in, only to emerge with an expression and feelings akin to a man who has had the soup and starters at an excellent restaurant and can’t wait for the main courses to arrive.

Just as in Book 1, Govinda Shauri plays a key role in Kaurava, as the story develops and leads to the big war. The characters are all very much human and very much real and Udayasankar’s de-deified version of the Mahabharata is a delight to read. The tussle between the Firewrights and the Firstborns continues in Kaurava. We get to know more of folks such as Syoddhan (Duryoddhan), Dussasan, Vidura, Asvattama, Jayadrath, Vasusena, Shikandin, Dhrstyadymn (Dhrishtadyumna), Dharma Yudhisthir, Bhim, Partha (Arjun), Panchali etc. in mortal avatars, warts and all. As Udayasankar presses on with her tale, the most well-known bits of the Mahabharata are re-arranged and presented to the reader in believable and realistic hues, which only adds to the credibility of the narrative. I’m sure everyone has heard of how Yudhisthir was forced to play a game of dice with Duryoddhan by the wily Shakuni and cheated of his kingdom. In Udayasankar’s Chronicles, there is no cheating and it is Yudhisthir, a compulsive gambler, who pushes Duryoddhan to play for very high stakes.

Udayasankar goes into Yudhisthir’s persona in such detail and depth and with such ruthlessness than at times I felt she goes overboard. Udayasankar tells us that Yudhisthir was a man inebriated with morality, the satisfaction of being right and good, backed up by brothers who would obey him come hell or high water. Yudhisthir definitely wasn’t the last man in the world to fall in love with virtue and truth, treating them as an end in themselves. Many have accused famous saints like Gandhi of such obsession with truth and morality, bordering on narcissistic martyrdom. In all probability, Yudhisthir wasn’t the first either. A man who believes that it was his destiny to rule, Yudhisthir gambles with the hope that providence would allow him to win an empire with a throw of the die so that he might claim to deserve the title of Emperor. One doesn’t have a choice but to hate Udayasankar’s Dharma, so much so that when, towards the end of the book, Chief Virat of Matsya slaps Yudhisthir, one feels good about it. On the other hand, Duryoddhan comes across as a likeable and nice guy, the sort one could go out for a drink with. Unlike Yudhisthir, Duryoddhan does not enjoy the luxury of having obedient younger brothers, waiting to do his bidding.

But the best sculpted character in Udayasankar’s Kaurava is Panchali. Not only is she human and earthy, with a mind of her own, her values and ideas would easily fit into today’s world. Let down by her first love Govinda and her unworthy husbands, Panchali suffers at the hands of Dussasan after Yudhisthir gambles her away and none of her other husbands stand up for her. However she stoutly resists her violation and declares that Yudhisthir never had the right to gamble her away. Kind-hearted Duryoddhan offers her an escape route when he proclaims that Panchali could go free if one of Yudhisthir’s younger brothers would endorse her claim and agree that Yudhisthir never had the right to stake her. None of the four cowards come forward. Let me not give away more, other than say that Udayasankar’s handling of the game of dice episode is a masterpiece by itself. Udayasankar pours concrete over Panchali’s character as an independent woman with her description of Panchali’s encounter with Keechak.

Asvattama, Shikandin and Dhrstyadymn come across as likeable characters, and I found Udayasankar’s depiction of Asvattama to be particularly fascinating, partly because I knew very little about him till now. Dhritarashtra is not a one-dimensional blind man as the Chopra father-son duo had me believe till now. In Udayasankar’s hands, Dhritarashtra is not so nice and so very interesting.

There are folk who believe that Jesus Christ visited Kashmir. I am not sure if Udayasankar is one of them, but she does take Govinda to Greece where he imbibes Greek thought and contributes some ideas of his own. Krishna is supposed to have trained as a Firewright, as have many of the important characters and Udayasankar takes pains to show how many of the good guys are Firewrights, even as they side with the Firstborn and hunt down the few surviving Firewrights. The explanation about the role played by Firewrights and why they are hunted down by Govinda and others is woven throughout the book, sometimes at the expense of the main story. Towards the end, Govinda divulges a big secret regarding the tussle between the Firstborn and Firewrights and to me it came as an anti-climax.

Kaurava is a thriller, the pace of the book much quicker than that of Govinda. There are fights galore and plots and sub-plots. To use a Churchillian expression, they fight in the forests, on the beaches, on the seas, in their workshops and in the desert. I am not sure if the settings and descriptions for the various fights and battles in Kaurava have been “borrowed” from other sources or if Udayasankar made them up herself. In any event, they are excellent and if ever Udayasankar wants to re-invent herself as a scriptwriter for Hollywood war movies, she would have no problems at all.

The only negative I can think of (other than the excessive downgrading of Yudhisthir and the ending which I didn’t like all that much) is that I found at least a couple of typos and I don’t remember seeing any in Govinda, Book 1.

On the whole, Kaurava is an excellent book, a must read for everyone who has read Govinda. I will not be surprised if Udayasankar’s Mahabharata goes down in history as one of the best ever interpretations. I can’t wait for Book 3, which will hopefully have the big war, at least its commencement – I wish I could preorder it right away.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Book Review: 10 Judgements That Changed India, by Zia Mody

Zia Mody is one of the most well-known corporate lawyers in India. She is in Business Today’s Hall of Fame as one of India’s most powerful businesswomen.

What is less well-known is that before donning the mantle of a corporate lawyer, Zia Mody, the daughter of former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, was a litigator practicing in the Bombay High Court. Mixing her well-honed drafting skills with an extensive knowledge of Indian constitutional law, Zia Mody has written a delightfully insightful book which, as its name suggests, dissects and analyses ten judgements which have had a significant impact on India. The foreword to this book has been written by Soli Sorabjee who says that ‘the Judiciary, at one time, was considered and projected to be the weakest branch of the state because it possessed neither power of the purse nor power of the sword. This myth has been demolished.

10 Judgements That Changed India has ten chapters, each dealing with a judgement, though it actually covers a lot more than ten judgements since each chapter covers a number of judgements leading up to the title judgement and in many cases, follow on cases, which are equally important. Thus the chapter on the Maneka Gandhi case also covers the ADM Jabalpur case where the Supreme Court ruled that a detenu could not file a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of his detention during an emergency. The chapter on the Shah Bano judgement also covers the Danial Latifi case which succeeded it. In Danial Latifi, the Supreme Court set right many of the flaws in the Shah Bano judgement, whilst taking care not to put its foot in the mouth, as it had in the Shah Bano case with its contemptuous tone and uncharitable comments and by unduly criticising Islamic law and practices.

Many a time when reading a judgement, I have felt that the judge made up his mind about the outcome and then justified the verdict with appropriate reasoning. Zia Mody says as much when she suggests that in Kesavananda Bharati and Golak Nath, ‘the decisions were the kind where judges primarily decided on the ends and then set out to discover the means to achieve those pre-determined ends.’ The Indian government was so angered by the Kesavananda Bharati judgement that when Chief Justice S. M. Sikri retired (the day after the judgement was pronounced), the government superseded three judges who had ruled against the government, who ranked immediately after C. J. Sikri and appointed Justice A. N. Ray, who had ruled in favour of the government, as the Chief Justice.

Interestingly, in some of the cases reviewed by Zia Mody, the petitioner did not get much relief from the court even though important and interesting questions of law were settled. For example, in the Maneka Gandhi case, the court did not pass any formal order and accepted the government’s assurance that Maneka Gandhi would get an adequate opportunity to be heard. The majority of the judges actually upheld the impounding of Maneka Gandhi’s passport and ordered that her passport should remain in the court’s custody in the meantime. Many a time, the ruling came about after ‘the Supreme court embarked on an inquiry not necessitated by the facts before it,’ as in the cases of Maneka Gandhi and Shah Bano.

Zia Mody’s humanity shines through when she says that courts acting alone cannot tackle the challenge of slum development and rehabilitation. They need the support of well-executed social welfare policies and economic development strategies. Zia Mody says that years after the ruling in Olga Tellis there has been a symbolic shift in the Supreme court’s approach towards the displacement of disadvantaged sections of society and their fundamental right to shelter. This has been especially so in the case filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan which petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a restrain on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River. Despite initially staying the construction of the dam, the Supreme Court allowed the dam’s height to be raised and allowed its phased construction at the expense of many tribals who were displaced. Zia Mody criticises the Supreme Court’s assertion that after rehabilitation the tribals would be in a better position than they were already in and they would have better amenities than which they enjoyed in their tribal hamlets, an assertion which Zia Mody rightly describes as ‘simplistic and myopic’. In Zia Mody’s view, the Supreme Court touched its lowest point in Almitra Patel v. Union of India where it ruled that ‘providing alternative accommodation to slum/pavement dwellers was comparable to rewarding a pickpocket and suggested that landgrabbers should be dealt with an iron fist.

If the Bhopal gas leak was a tragedy on a monumental scale, its aftermath saw callousness on a similar footing. The Indian government decided to sue Union Carbide in a New York court, on behalf of the victims, claiming that Indian courts were inefficient. The Indian government’s suit was thrown out by the New York court. Back in India, the victims ended up with a meagre settlement at the hands of the Supreme Court in 1989, which also quashed all pending civil and criminal proceedings. The law school I went to devoted an entire paper on the Bhopal gas leak case and I still remember the shame and anger the entire class felt as we waded through reams of pages setting out the sordid affair in excruciating detail, especially the manner in which the Indian government and the Supreme Court let the victims down. Thankfully, a few years after the Supreme Court’s 1989 settlement order, the Supreme Court revived the criminal cases, though it wasted a golden opportunity to revise the compensation awarded. Zia Mody says that ‘the Bhopal debacle was not enough of a wake-up call for lawyers, judges, politicians, activists and the media. In fact, they appeared to have pressed the snooze button and gone on to repeat mistakes of the past.’ Zia Mody compares the Bhopal gas leak case with the 2010 BP oil in the Gulf of Mexico. ‘Within weeks of the incident, BP created a 20 billion dollar fund to deal with the accident.’ Zia Mody asks poignantly, ‘had the accident occurred in Indian waters, would BP have paid even half the compensation it eventually did?

When Zia Mody’s narrative reaches the controversial waters of the Reservation Ocean, all of a sudden Zia Mody reveals a dry sense of humour. There are sub-headings such as “And Along Came The Mandal Commission”, “The Mandal Challenge”, “Off With The Creamy Layer” etc. There’s a nice and neat summary of the Indian caste system, the history of reservations in India, developments after India’s independence and then the grand arrival of the Mandal Commission. Zia Mody stays easy and neutral till the very end when she expresses her view on what she expects Indian policymakers to do regarding reservation. No, I’m not going to give this one away. Please read the eminently readable 10 Judgements That Changed India to find out for yourself.

As mentioned above, Zia Mody does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. When discussing custodial deaths, Zia Mody tells us that the judiciary’s approach to awarding compensation has been erratic and inconsistent. There was an instance in 1991 when the Supreme Court awarded Rs. 10,000 as compensation for public humiliation and loss of dignity and a case where the Calcutta High Court awarded Rs. 10 lakhs to a rape victim.

Of the ten chapters, the one on the independence of the judiciary is a masterpiece in its own right. In this Chapter, Zia Mody details the legal developments relating to appointments to the higher judiciary in a simple and concise manner, followed by her sensible and forthright comments. The First Judges Case is important not only for ruling that the executive had the final say in appointing judges, but also because the concept of public interest litigation took root in India on account of this case. In the Second Judges Case, the Supreme Court swung the other way and ruled that judicial appointments should be integrated, participatory and consultative. If there was a conflict, the judiciary would prevail. This was endorsed in the Third Judges Case, with a minor modification. Justice Bhagwati had lamented in the First Judges Case that the judicial appointment process was shrouded in mystery. Zia Mody shares this lament and tells us that the situation continues to be so even now, ‘only the identity of the high priests has been altered.’ Zia Mody clearly disagrees with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, calling the decision a rush ‘into unchartered constitutional territory, arrogating to itself the unprecedented power of carrying out judicial appointments.’ She (rightly in my opinion) says that ‘the decisions, though well intentioned, have upset the balance of power as envisaged by our constitution.

Zia Mody quotes Alexander Bickel to explain that the judiciary’s role is counter-majoritarian and anti-democratic. Unlike politicians, the judiciary is not answerable to the populace, yet it has the power to review decisions of the elected representatives and even overrule them. This counter majoritarian nature of the judiciary is tolerated on account of lack on alternatives, but when the judiciary usurps the power to appoint judges, such counter-majoritarian nature becomes particularly pronounced, Zia Mody tells us. Zia Mody endorses the proposals for creation of a National Judicial Commission which would have representatives from the executive and the judiciary and says that ‘such a commission seems to be the only solution to restore the system of checks and balances in judicial appointments and infuse transparency and accountability into the process.’ Zia Mody’s words have turned out to be prophetic. On 5 September 2013, the Rajya Sabha passed a Constitution Amendment Bill to create a Judicial Appointments Commission which will replace the existing collegium system of appointing judges to higher courts. I do wish Zia Mody had commented on the proposal to create an Indian Judicial Service, but she didn’t.

The Aruna Shanbaug case in which the Supreme Court elucidated its views on euthanasia is another chapter which examines very interesting questions of law, morality and public policy. In the course of its examination into the pros and cons of euthanasia, the Supreme Court screened a video recording of Aruna’s condition to be screened in to the courtroom. Support for such a practice, which clearly violated Aruna’s right to privacy, was found by the Supreme Court in the practices followed during the Nuremberg trials, where Nazi war criminals were tried! Not surprisingly, Zia Mody turns up her nose at such an exercise of (in)discretion by the Supreme Court. In this case, the Supreme Court took the very controversial view that whilst active euthanasia was wrong, passive euthanasia (allowing a person to die by not giving medicines or food) was not. Zia Mody tells us that the moral justification for allowing passive euthanasia, as opposed to active euthanasia, is not convincing. Zia Mody has a number of interesting arguments to buttress her position and rather than reproduce them here, I’ll leave it to you to read this wonderful book and find them for yourself.

Zia Mody (unsurprisingly) writes very well, her English simple, to the point and elegant too in the bargain. She uses her adjectives and adverbs in a low-key, understated manner, with devastating effect. When talking of the ADM Jabalpur case, she says ‘the Supreme Court had unhappily held’ that a detenu could not file a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of his detention during an emergency. At times Zia Mody finds a ruling by the Supreme Court ‘disquieting,’ and sometimes it is ‘refreshingly progressive’. All in all, 10 Judgements That Changed India is an excellent book, a must-read for anyone interested in understanding India’s legal system and finding out how it reached its present state.

The reviewer is a corporate/banking lawyer who has never appeared in court and considers himself a layperson in constitutional law. Like a few hundred lawyers scatted all over the world, the reviewer had the privilege of starting his legal career under Zia Mody’s tutelage.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Short Story: Flight To Dreamland

As the pilot announced the descent into Heathrow, Benny wished he had opted for the much cheaper Ukranian Airways rather than expensive British Airways. The food had been unappetising and the stewardesses had mostly ignored him, especially after he requested a third drink. Never mind, he would recoup the cost of his air ticket within a month of landing in London. The immigration queue took longer than expected and Benny wondered if the corpulent man in a smelly jacket behind him, holding a large mobile device, could be persuaded to send a message to Jason who would be waiting outside. No, let the bugger wait, Benny decided, as he fingered his shiny new jacket. If only Airtel hadn’t demanded a deposit for international roaming, he could have called Jason from his mobile.

‘What do you plan to do here sir?’ the immigration officer asked politely.

Benny managed to make a hash of his prepared speech. ‘I want to see UK. I know about England and Scotland and Ireland and I come to see everything.’ As his bowels tightened and he swallowed his articles and burped out conjunctions, a funny feeling rose to his throat. Would the officer see through his miserable charade and deport him, Benny wondered.

‘What’s your occupation back home Sir?’

‘I am credit officer at Amrao Bank.’ It made sense, since tourist visas are usually issued to folks with solid, verifiable jobs, who would want to return home before their visas expired.

The officer looked up and grinned, as if they had known all along that the letter from Amrao Bank, which had been submitted months ago along with the visa application, was a forgery. As Benny steeled himself for the handcuffs that were on the way, cursing Jason for his pig-headed advice, he heard the words, ‘Welcome to the UK, enjoy your stay here.’ Benny nearly screamed with relief.

Outside the terminal, Benny would have hugged Jason if it hadn’t been for Jason’s scruffy appearance and nervous face. A man who had been in London for the past nine months and who was an assistant manager could surely be expected to dress better and look happier? ‘Have you been waiting for long?’ Benny politely asked Jason as they carefully scrutinised each other.

‘Not a problem mate,’ Jason responded in an accent which had undergone substantial change and Benny immediately felt better.

‘Where’s your car?' Benny demanded of Jason.

‘In the parking lot. Where else?’ Jason laughed and all was well.

‘Let’s go.'

As Benny sank into the luxurious seat next to the driver, he reached out and punched Jason on his shoulder and said, ‘you’ve got to tell me how you did all this, buy such a nice car, get a good job.’ There was no response from Jason who continued to have the same strange look. ‘Never mind, there’s plenty of time.’

Are we having dinner at a restaurant?’ After a few seconds, Benny added, ‘entirely up to you. Either way, you are paying for my meal.’ He laughed at his own joke. It was easy to laugh about food, now that every meal would most certainly include a meat dish.

Once they hit the motorway and saw other cars whizz past across multiple lanes, Jason exulted, ‘I can’t believe I made it. I am in London finally!’

‘I am working tonight,’ Jason informed Benny all of a sudden, breaking the silence.

‘Night shift? Aren’t you an Assistant Manager?’

‘It’s up to me, how and when I want to work.’

‘You mean, you can choose? Well, then don’t work tonight!’

‘This is a cab.’ Jason looked deadpan as he stared ahead and focussed on driving.

‘You mean you hired this car to pick me up?’

‘No, this car is a cab. I drive this car.’

‘Yes, I can see that you are driving this car. Jason, what are you saying?’

‘I drive this cab. They call it a mini-cab, it’s a private taxi, not a black cab.’

‘You mean you are a taxi driver?’

‘Yes, not a regular taxi driver, but a mini-cab driver.’

Why did you lie to me, you bastard? Benny almost screamed. Then Benny slowly said, ‘I’m sure you make enough to eat.’

‘Yes, these days I do.’

‘So when you promised to help me find a job, is this what you meant? A taxi driver’s job?’

Jason gave wry smile and said, ‘It’s not easy to be hired as a cab driver. Takes time. So............. maybe........ you could start working in a’

As Benny maintained his stunned silence, Jason said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m around, you’ll never go hungry. Also, there’s a temple near my place. They give free meals in the evenings.’

‘At a temple?’

‘Yes, vegetarian, but filling.’

‘Sounds good,’ Benny said and tried to smile.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Book Review: Bosses of the Wild – Lessons From The Corporate Jungle, by Manjiri Gokhale Joshi

Human beings are animals, albeit social ones. Dig a little into any of us and you will find animal traits. Even as human beings evolved from being hunter gathers to farming to industrial workers, the animal traits have stayed under the skin. After all, our animal ancestry dates back to many millions of years - animals walked the surface of the earth for at least a few hundred million years whilst homo sapiens, the modern day human beings, came into existence only about 200,000 years ago. The modern corporate workplace bears remarkable resemble to a jungle, with two-legged animals fighting for money, survival and, uniquely for human beings, for glory.

Manjiri Gokhale Joshi, a former journalist who has donned a variety of mantles and is currently pursuing a Masters in Major Programme Management at Oxford University’s Said Business School, has in her scholarly work Bosses of the Wild – Lessons From The Corporate Jungle attempted to examine animal behaviour patterns and extrapolate from them, human conduct in the workplace. Joshi’s Bosses of the Wild delves into behaviour patterns of fourteen animals, of which only ten are fit to become bosses, according to the author. The Tiger is an outstanding individual performer, but would be a misfit as a team leader. But the Lion on the other hand is a terrific boss, Joshi tells us. ‘The leonine personality commands respects by simply being a lion.’ Mind you, the male Lion’s mane is as much as hindrance (it gets in the way) as it is a boon (commands respect). The Lioness is an even better boss than the Lion. It is a great team player, it nurtures the cubs and does most of the hunting for the pride. The eagle is a great performer, but will not be the best CEO. Rather, it flies high and lives for each kill. An eagle boss would have high principles, would not fall for flattery and would be a high achiever. However, nurturing a team and building an esprit de corps would not be a top priority. Then there are frogs who, within a small pond, are good at what they do, but do not have a global vision and are not too ambitious. The sloth is lazy, but gets by, since its lack of ambition prevents it from being eaten by ambitious rivals.

I found myself analysing many of my former bosses and colleagues and wondered what animal personality each could be classified under. To a large extent, each individual could be fitted into one of the animal personalities described by Joshi. One of the best bits about Bosses of the Wild is Joshi’s description in the beginning of this book of how different bosses would behave if an employee asks for a day off to attend a friend’s wedding, just before an important presentation has to be made. An eagle boss would blow his top. The rabbit boss would want to chastise the employee, but would be scared. Since the rabbit is even more scared of its own boss, the rabbit would make sure the presentation matches one approved by the big boss years ago. The employee will get his day off though. The Lioness will have the employee working on the presentation immediately, will review it in time and make sure it is ready before the employee leaves, one copy in the employee’s pen drive and a back-up version in the Lioness’s laptop.

The Jungle Story at the end of the book is an apt dessert after the multi-course meal served by Joshi. In the Jungle Story, Joshi depicts a succession battle within a corporate jungle. The animals behave true to type, with the succeeding Lion not hesitating to kill his predecessor’s cubs.

For me, the surprise package in Bosses of the Wild was the Hyaena. Joshi tells us that the Hyaena is not very different from the Lion. It is as much a hunter as the Lion and sometimes a Hyaena can even bring down a Lion. A spotted hyaena can weigh up to 90 kilograms and it can tenaciously chase a prey for much longer than a Lion can. This is because a Hyaena’s heart makes up 1% of its body weight while a Lion’s heart is only 0.5% of its body weight. The Hyaena can digest almost anything. It differs from the Lion in the manner in which it operates. Whilst the majestic Lion with its imposing personality does not need to prove anything, Hyaenas strategise, lobby and carry out well-planned out attacks which can bring down rivals.

Joshi tells us that the ideal boss would be a Lion without a mane, but with a roar that can be heard for five miles. ‘This impressive personality naturally commands respect and fear and the chances of insubordinate behaviour in the work place are automatically reduced to a minimum.’ ‘The perfect boss does not have the offensive bluntness of the leonine personalities. Instead, this boss practices discretion and a low key approach like the hyaena, displaying the patience to strategize and strike when needed.’ I wondered if this description would fit an individual like Narayana Murthy? Are looks and a commanding presence so important these days when employees are smart enough to figure out if the boss is doing a good job? On balance I would say that Joshi’s hypothesis is valid - Narayana Murthy is an exception rather than the rule.

On the whole, I really enjoyed reading Bosses of the Wild, which is written in simple, functional English with unadorned prose. It is a useful read for individuals who wish to improve themselves – each chapter on an animal type ends with advice on how individual bosses with such a personality may improve their performance as a leader. It also has limited advice on how to deal with each animal type. In my opinion, merely identifying an individual’s animal type would go a long way in dealing with that person.

I attended the Mumbai launch of Bosses of the Wild, where Kiran Bedi was the Chief Guest. Kiran Bedi asked for and found two volunteers to carry a copy each of this book to Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, the two top contenders for the Prime Minister’s post after the next Parliamentary elections. I hope that this book actually reaches those two gentlemen and that it makes a difference to the person who finally becomes India’s next Prime Minister.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Mark Twain’s Red Injun Joe

Recently I happened to re-read Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and was struck by Twain’s treatment of Red Injun Joe. I had always thought of Twain as a humanist, one who had sympathy for enslaved African Americans and even Africans in Belgian Congo.

Not only does Twain contemptuously refer to Injun Joe as a  ‘murderin' half-breed’, but also shows him as a ‘stony-hearted liar’, someone inherently back-stabbing, cowardly and hell-bent on revenge. When Huck Finn finally tells the Welshman that the deaf and dumb Spaniard is actually Injun Joe, the Welshman responds thus: "It's all plain enough, now. When you talked about notching ears and slitting noses I judged that that was your own embellishment, because white men don't take that sort of revenge. But an Injun! That's a different matter altogether."

Here’s a more detailed inspection of Twain’s attitude towards native Americans.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Book Review: “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot”, by Lalita Iyer

Lalita Iyer’s I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot (IPNTI) is exactly the sort of book I would normally not read, but then, one does strange things when one’s expecting to become a father for the second time. And I’d glad I picked this one up since the best books are those which tell you something you already know.

If you are planning to have a baby or if you have decided to never have one but are curious to know what mothers (and fathers) go through, Iyer’s IPNTI is for you. It’ll tell you how people react in different ways once a mother-to-be announces that the stork has paid her a visit. You’ll get to know how useful (or useless) fathers can be just after the baby is born. You’ll hear the bosses’ point of view when a woman returns to work post-pregnancy. You’ll find out how other single women behave on hearing the proud announcement. What makes IPNTI especially interesting is that Iyer belongs to a westernised generation where it’s normal for a woman to give precedence to her career and not get married or delay the onset of offspring even after getting married. Not every girl who Iyer holds up as an exhibit for her readers is non-traditional, though. There are a few who got married at twenty two and had their first child at twenty three.

IPTNI comes with handy tips for every new mother and mother-to-be, on matters ranging from how to poach a good maid from your friend to the things that one can do to lose the life-giving domestic helper even if one cannot afford to. The book runs to exactly 250 pages and they flip by at an agreeable pace as one takes in the various anecdotes and accounts that make up this excellent read.

Iyer got married when she was thirty eight and became pregnant when she was forty, an age when even her mother had given up hoping. A journalist, in the past she has written for Times of India, Hindustan Times etc. Currently she is Filmfare’s managing editor.

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Conversation With Thilini Kahandawaarachchi

Ms.Thilini Kahandawaarachchi, a Sri Lankan national, spent 5 years at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (my own alma mater) and graduated with a B.A. LL.B. Honours degree in 2007. Currently Thilini works for the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Sri Lanka as its Chief Publicist & Researcher, but is all set to leave for the USA in August having won a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a MA in International Affairs with a focus on Asian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
I recently caught up with Thilini and discussed at length her experiences while in India and at NLSIU and on how relevant an Indian law degree is for someone who expects to practice law in Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: How did a Sri Lankan end up at NLSIU?

Thilini: Every year NLSIU admits up to five foreign students, especially from the SAARC region. In 2002, I was one of the foreign students. I was on a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). It is given by the Indian Government to students who perform well in their A Level exam (the equivalent an Indian Boards exam for the 12th standard).

After my A Levels I had two options. I was selected to the Law Faculty, in Colombo University where only about 200+ top students scoring highest marks in the country for their A Level get through to do a 4-year LLB and my other choice was 5 year B.A., LLB at NLSIU on a scholarship.

Colombo Law Faculty was almost next door to my school, and I did not want to go there for four more years because it would have been very similar to going to school. My parents spoke to numerous Supreme Court judges, academics in Law before making the final decision and everyone they spoke to, recommended NLS. Though not everyone knows about NLS in Sri Lanka, those who know about NLS, are aware of its reputation as a top law school.

For me, it was more about the excitement of going to a different country to study and the experience that mattered. Since I had to do law, either in Sri Lanka or India, I chose India. It was a life changing experience. It shaped me to become who I am today. It made me independent and confident. I made great friends who I am still in touch with, had a great time travelling in India, meeting new people and seeing the world outside Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: Did you consider taking up a job in India after graduation?

Thilini: No, I did not because I wanted to finish my Bar exams and qualify as an Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: How did you qualify as a Sri Lankan lawyer with your Indian law degree?

Thilini: In Sri Lanka, to qualify as a lawyer you have to do the Bar exam conducted by the Sri Lanka Law College, which gives the professional qualification “Attorney-at-Law”. It entails sitting for all the three years’ exams of Sri Lanka Law College if you are a “foreign graduate”. Local graduates are exempted from the first two years’ exams. The exams are held every six months, so it takes a minimum of one and a half years to complete the exams unless you take two or all three years’ exams in one go, which means about 23 exams in one go.

Since I do not have a Sri Lankan graduate degree, I had to sit for all the three years’ exams of the Sri Lanka Law College - 23 exams in all.

Winnowed: Why did you choose to study law? Was it a childhood ambition to become a lawyer?

Thilini: For me, Law was more a tick in the box rather than an ambition and even less so a passion. Law was a natural choice, or rather the expectation because I come from a “Law” background, where my Dad is a lawyer and though my Mom never worked, she had also done Law. So I ‘had to’ do Law. In my parents' words, "to at least get the qualification." Having got a law degree,when I came back to Sri Lanka, I did not want to get back into law. Practicing law in Sri Lanka would have meant going back to law school to study law, then going through apprenticing for another six months and working at a law firm, which I did not want to do. I wanted to work in something that I was really interested in and do the Bar exams while working, which was exactly what I did. I finally completed the Sri Lankan Bar exams in 2011.

Winnowed: So you didn’t want to work as a lawyer. What did you finally end up doing?

Thilini: While travelling between Colombo and Bangalore every three months during the time I was at NLSIU, I would always read the inflight magazine of SriLankan Airlines and wish that I could become a travel writer like the writers featured in the magazine.

And after my first year exams at Sri Lanka Law College I joined a local publishing house called BT Options. At that time they were publishing magazines such as Business Today, Explore Sri Lanka and the Architect, which are all popular magazines in Sri Lanka. My work entailed traveling around Sri Lanka and writing about my journeys, exploring historic sites tasting local food, going on train journeys, boat trips, plane rides, climbing mountains, exploring caves and temples scattered across Sri Lanka and very often, to take the road less travelled. Coming from a family that travelled all the time, I really enjoyed my time spent writing about my journeys. I also wrote about architecture, and other projects and interviewed top businessmen and political leaders in the country as well.

While I was working there, BT Options won a pitch to publish Serendib - the inflight magazine of SriLankan airlines. It was a two decade long dream come true for BT Options. So was it for me.

In 2011 I joined Ogilvy & Mather in Sri Lanka and had a brief stint at Ogilvy Public Relations. After that I joined the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce as its Public Relations Manager. Working at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce provided me the space to be innovative and creative with my work and also provided a great work-life balance.

Winnowed: Please tell me how you got back into academics.

Thilini: In 2010, I started a postgraduate course on International Relations at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) in Colombo. For my course I worked on a thesis titled “Sri Lanka: Centre Stage of the 21st Century.” Inspired by Robert Kaplan's writings on the Indian Ocean and his book titled "Monsoon", it focused on Sri Lanka’s geo strategic location and how Sri Lanka can be a major shipping hub in the region if its strategically important position in the Indian Ocean is used to its true potential. I also presented it at the International Conference on South Asian Studies, 2012 which was held in Negombo, Sri Lanka. An arduous six months working on it also kindled my interest in the geo politics of the Indian Ocean region and the significance of South Asia in International Relations.

Winnowed: What made you apply for a Fulbright Scholarship?

Thilini: A Fulbright Scholarship was something that I focused on for a long time and worked towards achieving it. It is highly regarded and very competitive and the programme is not just about Masters education in the States, but also about cultural exchange and a great opportunity. Just as I was completing my post graduate thesis the applications were called for the 2013 round and I applied. The rest just fell into place.

Winnowed: Please tell me about a few people who have a made a big difference to your life.

Thilini: My parents who made many sacrifices to give us a good education and my teachers. Once in a while you also meet people who change your life, and meeting my lecturer and supervisor for my thesis at BCIS Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda was an experience that transformed my life. He spent so much of his time guiding and mentoring me on my thesis and gave me many opportunities to present my thesis as a paper to a diversity of audiences. He was also my referee for a Fulbright application in 2012. My former employers Mr. Harin Malwatte Secretary General/CEO of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, who was also one of my referees for Fulbright and Mrs. Alikie Perera, Deputy Secretary General were both understanding and encouraging during my application process for a Fulbright Scholarship. Mr.Palitha Fernando, Attorney General of Sri Lanka also took time off his schedule to be a referee for my Fulbright. He was also a great source of inspiration and a thought provoking lecturer at BCIS.

Winnowed: If you were to advice other Sri Lankans who are considering an Indian law degree, what would you tell them?

Thilini: Though an Indian law degree is not necessarily relevant in Sri Lanka, both countries generally follow a Common Law system, though Sri Lanka has also been influenced by Roman Dutch Law and also has personal laws such as Thesawalamei, Kandyan Law and Muslim Law. However, despite the differences in the law, the kind of training that we get at NLSIU is definitely unmatched.

Yet, if one wants to get into private practice in Sri Lanka, I personally believe it is better to go to Law School in Sri Lanka because it helps you build a wide network in the legal field through Sri Lanka Law College or Law Faculty. Foreign graduates very often do not have that. But if one wants to go beyond practicing Law, then a degree from a top Law School such as NLS, would provide a good foundation.

Winnowed: What’s your happiest memory from your time in Bangalore?

Thilini: There were many, but one memory that I fondly remember is a holiday that I spent with my best friend Rashi’s family in North India and visiting Taj Mahal for the first time was unforgettable.

Winnowed: India can be very welcoming towards foreigners, but it also has its dark and dirty corners, especially for women. Did you ever have any negative experiences while living and studying in Bangalore?

Thilini: Fortunately, I personally did not face any bad experiences as a woman, but that was almost 6 years ago.

Winnowed: What are your hobbies?

Thilini: I like to travel around Sri Lanka with my family and friends and when the seas are calm, I love to go snorkeling. In my free time, I also work with sixteen boys between the ages of four to fifteen at an orphanage.

I strongly believe in having a 'life' outside work and having a good work-life balance. Living and working in Sri Lanka provides me all that and more. Colombo is very laid back and relaxed. Every few months I have friends from NLSIU coming to Sri Lanka and it is always great to catch up.Even when they have friends and family visiting Sri Lanka they tell me, so that I meet them and show them around when possible. Though Colombo is very small very often I meet new people who happen to know my friends from NLSIU or from elsewhere in the world and it is always a wonderful realisation to be reminded of how small the world really is.