Archive for February, 2017

Books Read during 2016

February 9, 2017

Books Read during 2016

by L V Nagarajan

We were visiting our son and daughter in the US during July/Nov 2016. Many visiting Indian parents find such visits as boring, since they are confined to home most of the time with nothing much to do. But in our case we look forward to such visits, as we can spend a lot of time in walks, Yoga and most importantly in books. The libraries in the US are too good and have excellent collection of all kinds of books. All the books I have listed below are borrowed from a single library in Cupertino, Ca, US. I am not sure whether we can access such books in India unless we search and purchase them. The library system in the US allows us to search the digital catalogues with lot of ease, looking for titles, authors, topics, fiction, non-fiction, etc. Herein I have given a brief review of some of the books I have read during my stay in the US in 2016.

  1. Shikandi – Devdatt Pattanaik – 16/07/16

It is a book about sexual queerness, as narrated in the epics of India. Story of Shikandi is only a sample. There are other characters which are also as narrated by the respective stories. He includes Shiva’s episode, where he takes the form of a midwife for a devotee, (and delivered her child, in the absence of her mother) though there is no sexual interaction with anyone. He even considers the story of fast friendship between a poet (Pisir Aandayar) and a Tamil (Chola) king as ‘queer’. Story of Vishnu taking the form of Mohini, the enchantress, also finds a place in the narration. It is a readable collection of ‘queer’ stories from ancient India.

  1. Inferno – Dan Brown – 01.08.16

This book is typically a Dan Brown adventure mystery. This new novel ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown is based on a biological ‘terrorism’ of scientific age placed in the surroundings of medieval mysteries of Ottoman Empire covering present day Florence of Italy and Istanbul of Turkey. This novel is heavily based on Italian poet Dante Alighieri master piece ‘The Devine Comedy’ consisting of three cantos – Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, describing the path of the dead/soul towards Hell, Punishment and finally perhaps the Heaven. There are many articles available in the net comparing this piece of ancient literature with similar ideas represented in ancient Hindu scriptures by Saint Veda Vyasa in his Garuda Purana. Some of them even suggest that Dante was inspired by this description of Hell (and the travel of soul with its pseudo-body through the hell to the Paradise). In Maha Bharata epic, King Yuthishtra is supposed to have passaged through hell as a punishment for abetting the unfair killing of Ashvattama.

In this novel there are some unexplained ambiguities as below

  • How can a single type of vector virus would do equal harm to the fertility of both men and women? Evidently, their reproductive systems are quite different.
  • Though a lot of anxiety is expressed by all the characters in the novel about this biological ‘terror’, it appears to be a very humane way of controlling the population. It is same as vasectomy and tubectomy, which are of course, voluntary. This type of population control is normally adopted in animals and pests.
  • The characters in the novel, opposed to this type of ‘terrorism’ initially, come around and accept the same and think of making it reversible.

However the novel is quite interesting and highly readable. It has also come as a movie with Indian actor Irfan Khan in the role of Provost, the off-shore expediter and the secondary antagonist in the novel.

  1. An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath, Harper Collins Publishers India (2013) – 11.08.16

The book itself was published in May 2013, just after the sudden demise of Sri Lalgudi on 22nd April 2013.

  • The episode concerning Lady Lokasundari and Sir C V Raman is quite funny. Smt Lokasundari was trained in Music by Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer, grandfather of Lalgudi. She sang ‘Rama nee Samaanam evaru’, apt for the occasion, when the groom Dr. C V Raman came for bride introduction function at Madurai, in early 1900s.
  • In the CD attached with the book, track-8, ‘Meenakshi Memudham’ was simply superb. The violin sings. When Lalgudi plays on two strings we can hear the words. Initially I thought he sings along. He creates this effect repeatedly in his rendering. The CD itself was too good and deserves to enter into all musical archives.
  • On 9th March 2008, The Music Academy, Madras awarded Sri Lalgudi, the Special Life Time Achievement Award, a one-off award for the first time ever in the ninety years history of the Academy. During the occasion the president of the Academy Sri N Murali said that non-award of Sangita Kalanidhi title to Lalgudi, can be compared to Mahatma Gandhi not getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Sri Murali was proud that they did better than Nobel foundation, by seeking ‘to erase the mistake and the aberration’ and ‘in conferring the Special Life Time Achievement Award’ for Sri Lalgudi. But all said and done, I am still feeling sad to see that Lalgudi’s portrait is not seen anywhere in the lobbies of the Academy, not even among the portraits of Sangita Kalanidhis. Will the Academy take steps to erase this aberration too?

The book is a very interesting read for a biography. It has been a very well researched material with all interesting references. Some of the intrigues, conflicts and challenges in the world of Carnatic music have been brought out along with Lalgudi’s mature responses for the same. I felt the book could have included a few more comments from the rasikas including a few Lalgudi fans.

  1. Athisayam Athi Rahasyam – Lakshmi prabha – Vanathi Publishers -15.09.16

This is a Tamil Novel. It revolves around the mystical experiences of a couple, whose father becomes a ‘siddha purusha’. They go in search of a mystery to the forests of south Indian mountains and encounter several mystical experiences. It is a good attempt at mystical spiritualism in Tamil.

  1. Story of Numbers – John Mcleish – Fawcett Columbine 1992 – 20.09.16

This is a biography of Numbers and evolution of mathematical sciences. Like all authors of the western world, Prof. McLeish also appears reluctant to give due credit to the ancient civilization of India for the evolution of the number system and other mathematical concepts. Surely he has allotted one chapter (10 pages) for India, as compared to 20-page chapters for Arabia and China.

For example: Yajnavalkya (c. 9th– 8th century BC) recognized that the Earth is spherical and believed that the Sun was “the centre of the spheres” as described in the Vedas at the time. In his astronomical text Shatapatha Brahmana ( he states: “The sun strings these worlds – the earth, the planets, the atmosphere – to himself on a thread.” He recognized that the Sun was much larger than the Earth, which would have influenced this early heliocentric concept. He also accurately measured the relative distances of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth as 108 times the diameters of these heavenly bodies, close to the modern measurements of 107.6 for the Sun and 110.6 for the Moon. He also described a solar calendar in the Shatapatha Brahmana”. Several Solar, Lunar and Luni-solar calendars are still in regular use in India. In the author’s discussions on calendars, he totally ignores this ancient Indian contribution.

P-144: Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi (c.780-850 CE)- (Ref: Wikipedia): The author mentions this Arab mathematician profusely in his text. Perhaps his most important contribution to mathematics was his strong advocacy of the Hindu numerical system, which Al-Khwarizmi recognized as having the power and efficiency needed to revolutionize Islamic and Western mathematics. The Hindu numerals 1 – 9 and 0 – which have since become known as Hindu-Arabic numerals – were soon adopted by the entire Islamic world. He oversaw the translation of the major Greek and Indian mathematical and astronomy works (including those of Brahmagupta) into Arabic. Though the Arabic scholar is willing to acknowledge the pioneering work done in ancient India, Western scholars and leftist intellectuals (even in India) are still not willing to accept the same, and call them as tall claims by Hindu nationalists.

  1. Artifact – Gigi Pandian – 28.09.16
  2. Pirate Vishnu – Gigi Pandian – 10.10.16

The author’s father is from India and she seems to have spent good amount of time in India to appreciate the ancient and recent culture of India. The first novel is about a lost and hidden treasure of ancient jewels of Jaipur royalty pilfered by an East India Company executive, centuries ago. Their descendants have hidden the same in a site near Irish border. An archeological explorer in the area hires some diggers, who seem to have their own agenda of finding and snatching the treasure and selling them to international art mafia. The story is well narrated as an adventure mystery. When I was reading the books of Dan Brown, I always thought there is a lot of scope for writing such treasure hunt mysteries with ancient treasures at many ancient locations of India. In fact, I have given my ideas of such a theme in my blog “Ancient Mystery thriller” – (

The second novel by Gigi Pandian, Pirate Vishnu, is also about an art piece, lost from Indian Port town of Tutucorin during the early struggle for Indian independence. The mystery revolves around Kochin and Sanfrancisco during the period of Gold rush. Mingling the stories of the past and present really enhances the narration. Especially, care has been taken to see the treasure being lost (or hidden) at the end of the ‘past’ story and it being found at the end of the ‘present’ story. Being only her second novel, her narrative style has shown lot of improvement. Quite an interesting read.

  1. Lost Kingdom (Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia) – By John Guy – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Yale University Press – 10.16

This is a very good photo journal describing the influence of Hindu-Buddhist rulers in South East Asia. Excellent photographs of sculptures of almost all Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina religious icons are listed and catalogued. We know about Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There are hundreds of such temples throughout South East Asia. It is really amazing to see the photographs along with their historical perspective, with a sense of pride.

  1. A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story – T M Krishna – Harper-Collins Publishers India (2013)

The above book consists of 27 essays on music written by Sri T M Krishna, a musician of great repute. These essays are put into three parts, namely, The Experience, The Context and The History. TMK has been doing a lot in taking this art music to all communities, especially to the community to whom it belonged a few centuries ago. He has received Magsaysay award for his work in breaking the community divide that is perceived to exist in the field of karnatik music. This award has been seen in a totally different context by the media and purists of the art form. But those reading this book will understand his views better in a social context than political. TMK suggests a lot of ‘mid-term corrections’ to the course taken by Karnatik Art Music at present times. I totally agree with many of his views on this aspect.   We rasikas (and in fact, even musicians) should thank Sri T M Krishna for telling the story of karnatik music from the perspective of a concert artist. I feel parts of this book should be prescribed for study for all the serious students of karnatik music. Those who want to get a summary of the first part of this book can visit my blog as below:

Hope my readers like some of these titles and get access to read these books.