Friday, February 20, 2009

Making sense of ‘packaged’ terrorism

Book Review
Packaging Terrorism: Co-opting the News for Politics and Profit by Susan D. Moeller, 2009: Wiley-Blackwell.

If you are thinking why we are talking about a book on the media coverage of terrorism in a space like this one, let me tell you one thing upfront: One, because this is a rare and important book and two, because terrorism, no matter where you are and what your profession is, can claim you as a victim.

Also, we have witnessed routinely how Internet-savvy terrorism has become of late: terrorism sites host beheading videos and broadcast threats of attack, terrorists abuse social networks and chat rooms for recruitments, and they use applications such as Google Earth for planning attacks (as seen in last year’s Mumbai attacks). Terrorists have been successfully using the new media to imbed fear into our hearts through our eyeballs.

The larger truth is that terrorism is the politics of our times. And like politics, even if you are not interested in it, it is interested in you.

The grand narrative of our times

Every era has its own grand narrative. Ours has been, at least for the last decade or so, terrorism. Before that, Kennedy’s and Reagan’s era was about the cold war, Clinton’s about globalisation and WTO and until recently, George W. Bush’s of global terrorism and the ‘war on terror’.

This grand narrative, however, is taking yet another new direction under president Barack Obama. The express reckoning is that the global financial crisis is a greater threat to the USA than terrorism. It is an even bigger threat to the United States' national security than the al Qaeda terrorist network or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, said retired admiral Dennis Blair, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence, in his first appearance before the US Congress.

While the shift from terror to finance is still happening, it is a good time to look at the ogre of terrorism that has been the bane of our life and times. And if you haven’t ever thought about how the media brings the ‘news’ of terrorism to us, Dr Moeller’s book can be an eye opener. She is the director of the International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park, US. If you are afraid the book will be a dry read, you are in for a surprise. The book is not jargon-heavy, is divided into short chapters and uses a lot of examples to establish claims and observations.

Packaging terrorism for our consumption

The book is about a very simple idea. “The idea is this: that it’s not the acts of terrorism that most matter in the post-9/11 world,” writes Dr Moeller in her introduction, “it’s what we are told to think about the acts of terror. Politicians tell us what to think. The media tells us what to think. Even terrorists tell us what to think. They all want to attract our attention…They all have agendas. They all are packaging terrorism for our consumption. We are the audience for all those disparate actors.”

So, in a nutshell, this book is about how to make sense of the ‘packaged’ terrorism that is thrown at us from time to time—from New York, London, Madrid, Kabul, Bali and Bombay.

Chapter by chapter, Dr Moeller builds up the gory picture of terrorism and its manipulation—by terrorists, politicians and media barons. She begins with the basics such as what is terrorism, how 9/11 happened, how president Bush and his ‘vulcans’ (Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz) crafted the war on terror—a label for their unilateralist and interventionist foreign policy goals, and how the American (and the copycat global) media responded.

Media response to the War on Terror

“The media responded as directed—and as they always have at the start of a national crisis,” writers Dr Moeller. “At the end of October 2001, the then CNN chairman Walter Isaacson wrote a memo to his staff members that ordered them to balance the broadcast images of civilian devastation in Afghanistan with reminders of the American lives lost at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.” And thus began, according to Moeller, the beginning of a misleading media spin on the war on terror. “Isaacson was wrong,” she argues. “The American public deserved to know more about the casualties and hardship in Afghanistan. The public needed to know more about the meaning and the effect of the president co-opting 9/11 and co-opting the patriotic, broad-based interest in responding through a ‘War on Terror’.”

After examining the genesis of the ‘War on Terror’, Dr Moeller brings under her microscope various media-related issues that underlie the reporting on terrorism. Some examples: use of the umbrella words and phrases such as ‘terrorist’, ‘madrassa’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’, defining terrorism, why news standards matter, and the politics of media coverage.

“Over and over, time and again, my centre’s studies revealed that the victims of terrorism rarely appear in the stories about it,” she says. “Media cover international affairs through the lens of their own country’s foreign policy—especially as articulated by its leadership.” Think of last year’s Mumbai terror attacks and how quickly it became an India and Pakistan issue, and how the media in the two countries adopted nationalistic agendas in reporting and discussing the attacks.

Citizen journalism and terrorism

With a rich cache of examples, the book traces a variety of developments in the media sector that arose while covering terrorism. One of the most fascinating aspects of these developments is the rise of citizen journalism, especially photos and videos, that came from citizens as well as professional photographers that were much discussed, many achieving iconic status. Perhaps blogs were invented just for this—when the mainstream media became shy of covering something or could not reach some areas, bloggers stepped in (remember the Baghdad blogger?) to fill the void. Very recently, the pain and suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza would not have come out in the open had it not been for the bloggers in Gaza and Israel who wrote the accounts of loss online when Israel had embargoed the foreign media in Gaza in its three weeks’ assault early this year.

The brave new world of murders and restrictions

With terrorism rampant in the world, what is most disturbing is the governments’ control (and thus manipulation) on the media coverage of the theatre of operations—in terms of restricting access to the war zones (embed restrictions) or killing of journalists. Consider these facts:

• Among the first killed by the Hutus during the genocide in Rwanda were 14 local journalists.

• How many people know that for the past decade Algeria has been ravaged by war that has left an estimated 100,000 dead? Not many, because both sides in that conflict have taken turns murdering journalists: 60 at last count. Same in Chechnya.

• Many don’t seem to be noticing that there is less and less coverage of the war in Iraq. By the summer of 2008, noted the New York Times, there were only half a dozen Western photographers covering the country, even though 150,000 American and 4,100 British troops remained engaged there. Why? Because of the “danger, the high cost to financially ailing media outlets and diminished interest among Americans in following the war.”

To ensure free and fair coverage of terrorism, the priority must be to build civil societies, including media, from inside out and the ground up, suggests the author. In conclusion, she says that we need to move beyond spin, ask questions because we don’t have all the answers, and evaluate what we are being told. “We need a vibrant, spirited, diverse, and pluralistic media at home and around the world,” she says.

To deal with the global curse of terrorism, the media needs to rise above all kinds of boundaries and re-evaluate their exceptionalism. Dr Moeller aptly recalls Dr Martin Luther King’s message: “A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.” (‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’, 1967).

“If we do not act,” added Dr King for action, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. Now let us begin.”

Even though it seems to be too late, can we still begin now?

Published first as my blog entry at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Guest blog post: If I were an Indian Hindu

I am honoured to publish this guest blog post from my friend, philosopher and guide, Amir Ullah Khan, who is an eminent Indian economist and author of many books. He wrote this article as a companion piece to one of my earlier pieces, If I were an Indian Hindu:

I think it is the idea of India that has killed the spirit of India. Nationalism came to roost in the deadly nineties and submerged all those wonderfully diverse identities that constituted a loose country filled with several diversities. If I were an Indian Hindu, I wouldn’t think differently. Because the community I belong to is the middle aged urban India, with rural roots, someone who has played cricket when young and watches movies whenever possible. I am also a Muslim.

I have not met any Hindu Indian till date. My friends from Hyderabad were quite local in their language, tastes and mindsets. They spoke a delightfully cute mix of Telugu, English and Urdu that they still speak. They did not understand the ways of the North Indian outsider and they positively disliked Hindi as a language. The only Hindi element enjoyed by all were the angry young films that came from Bombay then and appealed to the sentiments of the left leaning youth studying Technology at Osmania University and having firm opinions on the pernicious US influence on Nicaragua and Libya. We all saw a number of communal riots starting 1979 and ending in 1989. The reason, we argued was a weak police force and a one upmanship within the dominant Congress party. The moment a one man dominated party called the Telugu Desam came, communal riots were history and the same police force was now impartial and equally insensitive to all.

Then I moved to Gujarat, now famous for its state sponsored murder of a couple of thousand Muslims during the one week of murder and mayhem in the year 2002. The Gujarat of the late eighties was quite the opposite. All my friends then were just emerging from adolescence and had recently found freedom through consuming alcohol. Gujarat denied them this liberty as it was, and continues to be, a prohibition state. Their liquor came usually from police stations where the constable made some money selling confiscated bottles at exactly double the Maximum Retail price printed (In India there is this strange regulation that makes manufacturers declare the maximum price on labels). If the police did not have stocks, the underworld did and was recommended by the local police station. The Gujarat underworld was kin to the more powerful ones in neighbouring Bombay and was usually Muslim, who did not drink themselves, but were always to be relied upon by the thirsty students of management in Gujarat then. There existed a healthy respect and brotherhood that defied any potential divide that would come up later.

My third set of friends was the civil servants that would soon run India’s bureaucracy. We were all training to be government servants in the early nineties. Most students there couldn’t care less, despite the fact that the Babri masjid had just been demolished. Almost everyone was worried about the state she would be allotted to and would do anything, including convenient marriages, to go to a good state. The Indian civil service remains delightfully provincial in this regard and bureaucracy that gets allotted to difficult provinces in India suffers all life. Almost everyone wanted to avoid Gujarat, Orissa, Kerala and the North East. In the search of a good posting and at the beginning of a career, no one really cared about being communal or nationalist.

Then I moved to Delhi and knew there was a change that was taking place quietly. We were all growing up. And I realized that I had changed. The transition from a simple small town life to a relatively well off big city existence now started alienating me from all my earlier fraternities. School friends had been forgotten, college mates were all in the US, the business school fraternity was really busy and the bureaucratic batch mates had spread far and wide. Suddenly there were no roots any more. Around me, in the nineties, the concept of India was gaining ground. What was a vague romantic notion was now becoming concretized. People were doing what they had never felt the need to before – defining their Indianness. In this quest, there was a serious problem – India was never a nation, so there were no parameters or benchmarks. Therefore some took the easy route of defining what was not Indian and then proving that that was not what they were. Hindi became important and by now the Bombay talkies had taken Hindi to all corners of the country and made almost all parts understand the language. Television and its opera helped do this at lesser cost.

Now a pan India Hindu identity was emerging and noticing the fault lines that were sometimes defined as Sikh, sometimes as Muslim and now Christian. History and historical mistakes were now being studied by ideology driven neo converts to the concept of India. Violence spread as the state watched in confusion. How could it strike at people who were proclaiming their love for the country? Is someone who claims to be protecting local interests, local culture and language a patriot or an irrational maniac? But all this is an aberration, and I continue to think so despite the sad news on communalisation that keeps coming in every now and then. I met most of my friends this year again in various twenty year, fifteen year and ten year re unions. They were all the same. Nothing had changed. We laughed and ate, shared anecdotes and pulled each other’s legs. The India as I remember it from the last century lives on.

The author is an economist and the director of India Development Foundation, Gurgaon, India.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bend it like Balli

Just writing something end of the day or being affirmed by the recognition of a fellowship, being recognized by fellow writers and critics, that is very humbling and it makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile, says Balli Jaswal, the youngest winner of the David T K Wong Fellowship, in a tête-à-tête with Zafar Anjum, editor of Writers Connect.

I was facing a very unusual dilemma when one evening last November I found myself walking to the Arts House to interview Balli Jaswal. While I was curious to meet Balli, who is a young journalist and a first-time novelist, I was not sure how to engage her in a meaningful discussion.

The reason for my dilemma was this: for most writers interviewed, one has the benefit of reading the subject’s works (novels, essays, stories, journalistic pieces, poems) in advance to help form an opinion. In Balli’s case what she has been working on (a sample of that text, not available to me, won her the 2007 David T K Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, UK) is not in the public domain yet; at the same time, her winning of the prestigious fellowship establishes her credentials as a ‘writer’ beyond doubt and the potential she embodies as a successful future writer.

That’s why when I met the vivacious Balli, I started with a very basic question—one that sprang from my mind with a tinge of Naipaulian determinism and determination: When did she ‘decide’ to become a writer?

“I don’t know if I ever decided it,” Balli said, attentively noticing the nuances of the word ‘decide’ that I had used in my question. “I think it occurred to me as something that I was good at doing, something I really enjoyed doing …I just kept doing…”

“I don’t think I can still be defined as a writer,” she said putting the matter to rest.

At one level, Balli had stated the absolute truth. Her first book was yet to be out (Naipaul once said that he did not think he had become a writer until he had published five books). At another level, she was being humble. Like the past David T K Wong Fellowship winners (Balli is the youngest winner), she too has been marked, destined for a literary stardom.

The making of a writer

Balli had a childhood that spanned across many countries in Asia, including Japan, Russia, the Philippines and Singapore. That experience, of living and growing in many cities, of dealing with people of different cultures, informed her ways of seeing the world. “I gathered a realization that communication is very different for me than other people,” she said. “The word, the language that you choose becomes very important (in a multicultural setting). You tend to listen to dialogue differently.”

Out of this body of experience, according to her, schooling in Singapore played a significant role. “Schooling in international schools, writing competitions in Singapore really honed that drive for writing,” she said.

After schooling, Balli decided to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer. Not everyone agreed that this was a good move. Nevertheless, she carried on and got to study creative writing in the USA at Hollins University and George Mason University. In fact, she ended up attending the same creative writing course (at Hollins University) that was attended by Booker Prize-winner Kiran Desai.

But did the creative writing programme really help her? “I think more than anything it gave me confidence,” she said. “It gave me some affirmation that what I was writing was important. You do a lot more criticism than writing and you tend to learn what other people are doing right and wrong. So that sort of training was important for me to become a writer.”

But not everybody is fortunate enough to study creative writing. Can such unfortunate people still become writers, I meant to ask her. “As long as you instill that discipline (of writing) for yourself and have a community that you can turn to and have a sense of confidence in your writing, you can do it,” she said.

“It can never hurt you to be in a creative writing programme,” she added matter-of-factly. “Even out of your assignment you get a volume of work, even if it is crap that you don’t want to look at again.”

Winning the fellowship

After finishing her creative writing course, Balli returned to Singapore to work on her first novel, When Amrit Returns. She also took up a teaching assignment. That’s when she was awarded the 2007 T K Wong Fellowship.

“I was in complete shock,” she said on her getting the fellowship. “And I was just elated. It was exactly what I wanted or needed. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I think it is the highlight of my life.”

Balli said that when she was shortlisted for the fellowship, she thought ok, she had got that far. “But when I got it, that was really beyond my expectation,” she said.

The fellowship took her to the University of East Anglia (UEA) for about one year. “It was an interesting experience,” she said recounting her experience. “I had just a vast amount of time all of a sudden. Before that I had been teaching in Singapore. Very busy all the time. Didn’t have much time to write as anyone with a full time job would. And suddenly I had the entire day, the whole day to sit and write and I knew I was prone to freezing up – OMG what do I do now. So I tried to work myself out of that a lot. I took it one day at a time which I realized it was a good step to take.”

But there also was a downside to the experience. “It was a very isolating experience in a lot of ways,” she said. “That is the nature of that kind of position I guess.”

During her time at UEA, apart from writing, she also got to meet other students doing their Masters. “They were really nice” she said. She also had a mentor who was supposed to guide her. “But it was a flexible relationship,” she added.

In UK, most of the time she was working on her book. Between breakfast and lunch, she cooked her own meals. She used to sketch out what she was going to write in the day, know where to start and know where to stop. “I tried to churn out something everyday,” she said. “I thought it was important to do.”

An Indian writer?

Taking a break from writing related questions, I asked her how she saw herself, what kind of writer she thought she was. Did she think she was an Indian writer or a Singaporean writer or a hyphenated one?

“The writing that I do I can’t just call it Indian writing,” she said. “It is not based in India but my characters are mostly Indian. I am a Singaporean Indian writer who wrote the only Singapore Indian book so far and hopefully there will be more so I will be in the company of others who have done the same thing. If not, I would like to be described as an immigrant writer.”

Whatever way publishers and critics will pigeonhole Balli in the hierarchy of writers, she is certainly interested in the stories of immigration like many of her contemporary expat Indian writers. “I am very interested in the background of immigration and how it is represented in literature and how multiculturalism shakes that landscape,” she said. “I have been an immigrant in so many different contexts.”

Balli also likes to explore issues of cultural isolation. “You can be a part of a culture and be still outside it,” she said.

In the same vein, she finds language very interesting, how in different ways language is used and how people perceive language.

Her first novel

The conversation now veered towards a new topic: Balli’s first novel, When Amrit Returns. “It takes place between the late 60s and the early 90s,” she said about the temporal setting of her work in progress. “It centres around the life of a Punjabi family in Singapore whose lives start to unravel when their youngest daughter changes and goes missing. That is the first part of the book. Physically she comes back but mentally she is not all there. From any reader’s point of view it is quite clear that she has a mental illness. But the family does not recognize it as such because they are still rooted in tradition. Singapore becomes third world to first very rapidly in that timeframe bit people don’t catch up with that. So, they think she is not well raised or she is possessed. And even when they realize that she has a mental illness they don’t want to deal with it because of the taboos surrounding it. But there is a twist in the end” (she laughs).

“In a lot of ways, Singaporeans have lost their homeland. I left Singapore for nine months and when I can back, there were new buildings. My parents who were born here also talk about the loss of their homeland. They lived in very different circumstances than they are living now.”

Many interviewers and readers would want to know how other writers or their writings have influenced a budding writer. I am no different, so I asked Balli about her favourite writers. I tend to like books than writers, was her reply. Fair enough, I thought. Then she took some names. On top of her list is the Indian writer (who now lives in Canada) Rohington Mistry. “If he wrote the phone book, I would read it,” she said about Mistry. She waxed eloquent about Satnam Sanghera’s biography of his mother (the best biog I have ever read), wowed about Margaret Attwood’s Cat’s Eye and raved about Yiyun Li’s short stories.

Towards the end of the interview, I again took Balli to the elemental question—what did she feel about her journey so far, what did it all mean to her? Her reply showed the depth of her understanding of the state of being a writer. “Just writing something end of the day or being affirmed by the recognition of a fellowship, being recognized by fellow writers and critics, that is very humbling and that makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile,” she said. “Though I wouldn’t refuse a huge advance” she said with laughter that I will always remember her for.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Enter the world of Tamil Pulp

Book Review

Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction
Selected and Translated by Prathim K. Chakravarthy
Edited by Rakesh Khanna
Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd, Chennai
366 pages
US$ 17.95

Growing up in India in the 1970s and 80s, like millions of fellow Indians, I too was exposed to pulp fiction in Hindi and Urdu. It was sometimes in high school when the transition from reading funny comics and magazines like Suman Saurav and Parag to Hindi and Urdu detective potboilers and crime magazines took place. Unlike watching masala Bollywood films that have always been accepted on their own terms, reading pulp was always a secret activity. It provided a guilty pleasure.

While I remained in tune with the developments in the pulp fiction arena in North India’s two principal languages, I was unaware of its cousins in the Southern India because of the linguistic divide between North India and South India. Thanks to Blaft Publications of Chennai, I recently got the opportunity to a taste the Southern fare in a good dollop in the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction that came out last year.

The anthology has stories by 10 of the India’s best-selling Tamil authors, which have been translated into English for the first time. The stores featured in this 366 page anthology include from authors such as Rajesh Kumar, Ramanichandran, Subha, Pattukkottai Prabhakar, Indra Sounder Rajan, Pushpa Thangadorai, Vidya Subramaniam, Tamilvanan, Brajanand V.K. and Resaki.

When I sampled some of the stories in this collection, I realized how the pulp fiction writing in the two Indian languages (Hindi and Tamil) was similar. The collection is a significant addition to Indian writing not just because of its pleasure quotient, but also because, as the translator notes in his introduction, “this book is an attempt to claim the status of ‘literature’ for a huge body of writing that has rarely if ever made it into an academic library, despite having been produced for nearly a century.”

The stories in this anthology have all the hallmark elements of pulp fiction—suspense, murders, detectives, police inspectors, mad scientists, murderous robots, lovers and prostitutes, and plots sprinkled with a fair amount of titillation. The stories have interesting plots; even the titles are so interesting—Hurricane Vij, Matchstick Number One, Silicon Hearts, Tokyo Rose—just to mention a few. When you read them you can see that some of the stories such as Matchstick Number One and Tokyo Rose could have easily been made into Tamil masala capers.

Apart from the stories, one of the most interesting aspects of this collection is the author introductions. For example, the author Subha (Hurricane Vij) is the nom de plume of not one but two authors: Suresh and Balakrishnan. They have been writing together since their school days and together have co-authored more than 600 long and short novels. Similarly, the writer of the story Matchstick Number One, Rajesh Kumar, may well be the world’s most prolific living writer of fiction—he has written and published more than 1250 novels and over 2000 short stories. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

I immensely enjoyed reading the stories in this collection. If you ever loved pulp fiction in any Indian language, you should not miss this anthology.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Book of the year for the Wall Street bunglers, and you

Whether you are a winner or a loser, Ashish Jaiswal’s True Dummy should be on your reading desk

True Dummy
A Fable of Existence
By Ashish Jaiswal
Publisher - Rupa & Co.
Paperback - 247 pages

When I started reading Ashish Jaiswal’s debut novel, True Dummy, I was hoping to read something familiar—and I mean it not as a compliment but a complaint that I hold against most Indian writers. The first few pages seemed to read like a pastoral with its bucolic charm or a tale from a small town. Is it another Slumdog Millionaire set in the mountains, I wondered. Village life, mountains, valley of flowers, rivers, small boys, Ammas, shopkeepers, minstrels—was Ashish treading on the Ruskin Bond territory?

Turned out it was no Ruskin Bond, no Slumdog Millionaire, but more Paulo Coehlo, and more Luck by Chance, perhaps even deeper than them.

Honestly speaking, the narrative might not grab you from the start—I had to struggle a bit (which happens with most novels I try to read) and keep the faith. Paragraph after paragraph failed to make me suspend my disbelief (you might have a different experience—every reader brings his own experiences to a text) but there came moments when I recognized the wisdom of the writer, the genuine observations of an extraordinary mind, the imagination of an adroit narrator.

As I kept on reading beyond the first few chapters, I was defeated in all my expectations—soon I was on a heroic journey along with the protagonist of the novel who starts out to seek fame and fortune in this world like most underdogs. He fails by all standards, even his own. And then he succeeds, not realizing what he was doing—until we are shown an unfinished piece of the puzzle.

Like a skillful magician, Ashish creates a mirror of the world (a mayanagri, if you will) in the novel where our basic human motivations and failings are reflected in a stripped down version—as if in a TV show, a la Chocolate Factory, where we all come seeking fame or riches, to be the next American Idol or the next superstar or the next whatever. And we fail: “I wanted to be the most famous and found myself amidst faces that nobody cared to notice. Nervous faces, cowardly faces, depressed faces…faces that said at the first look that they were born to lose.” Sounds familiar? There you go.

Ashish’s novel is so different in many senses. Though he lives in Oxford, UK, pursuing a DPhil from the University of Oxford, his work has been brought out by an Indian publisher. The novel’s title itself is so uncommon (I am talking in terms of the usual stuff that we see coming out of the Indian writing in English stable): the title is intriguing and yet has a refreshing allure about it, not reminding you of the Red Bulls, The Boat in the Mangrove and The Bride of Sitapur (all made up titles) type of commonplace titles.

Ashish’s novel may not be a great literary work (perhaps he did not even attempt to achieve any literary greatness in his work) with its many cardboard characters, uncomplicated and trick-less language and a straight narrative structure, it has great potential to be turned into a video game, with the Rings and its crooked tail and its three gates—MoneyGate, PowerGate and FameGate. Or it could be the next Slumgdog Millionaire meets The Lawrence of Arabia. Are the UTVs and the Warner Brothers listening?

Ashish’s tale might be Indian in tone and setting, but in terms of its ethos and message, this is a universal book (even the characters’ names such as Geoga and Verona are translation friendly). And so insightful, you might want to re-evaluate your approach to life after you have read it. If you are successful in life, you might see your success differently after reading True Dummy. If are a failure, you might feel otherwise about yourself. You may be inspired to do what the protagonist does in the novel.

If you like to read a book full of pearls of wisdom or quotable quotes, I bet this is the book for you. There are some dialogues or observations that you may want to note down in your diary. How about this one: “A fallback plan is for people who walk backwards, hence they all end up where they start.” A good quote for a film poster, with the Rings and all that, nahi? Or how about this one: “If a person has to tell what he does, then probably he does not do anything worth telling.” You find it cheesy? New age humbug? (Humm, are you a snooty high-brow lit reader?). Never mind. Salim-Javed would have liked it.

On a serious note, I strongly recommend this book to all those guys at the Wall Street and the big banks who have created a huge mess in our world, to the Bernie Madoffs and the B. Ramalinga Rajus of the world—it could be a good read in prison. At the same time, I think this book should be read by our ambitious youth, from Chandni Chowk to China to Connecticut, who ought to know what is truly valuable in life.