In Xanadu – A Quest – Book review –Author William Dalrymple It was the year 1986 when Karakorum highway opened between Pakistan and China and …In Xanadu – A Quest – Book review –Author William Dalrymple
In Xanadu – A Quest – Book review –Author William Dalrymple
It was the year 1986 when Karakorum highway opened between Pakistan and China and William Dalrymple, conceived an ambitious project of following in the footsteps of Marco Polo in his summer break in Cambridge. Still wet behind the ears, all of 22 years, this daunting journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu in China had to be done on a paltry sum of 700 pounds, but possibly enough in those days.
It paved way for one of his best literary endeavors, his first book, In Xanadu – A Quest. No wonder, his book has caught more attention than any travelogues or documentaries made on this famous journey of Marco Polo.
Incidentally, this expedition was planned once before when the author was in the fifth standard with his friend, after reading a” Ladybird “ book on Marco Polo. He had no clue about “England “ or “China “, so they came back home for supper once the evening set in.
A Venetian, young Marco Polo, came to Jerusalem when he was seventeen years old with his Uncle and Dad in 1271. Christendom was undergoing a low phase in those times and Gregory X[the then Pope] had a whiff that Kubla Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan was showing interest in conversion to Christianity. Chengis Khan was the then ruler of a vast empire from the Euphrates to Pacific and if he could be made a believer of Christianity, then this could have been the best possible move.
Chengis Khan wanted a sample of oil from the famous lamp which burned in Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and Marco Polo and his team was given this responsibility
Polo was a hard-headed merchant’s son, so his account of travel was neither a diplomatic expedition to save Christianity nor a general account of the lands he passed. At the end of the journey, his goal was simple –“Profit “
This 12,000 miles journey spanning through multiple countries was not a cakewalk in any era. It takes us through Jerusalem, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, and finally ends in Xanadu in China.
Dalrymple was stood up by his friend and companion at the last minute. Though heartbroken, Laura , the substitute companion proved an asset. She not only braved the misogynist behavior and male gazes throughout the journey but proved to be a strict taskmaster for the author in keeping him on this whirlwind tour on schedule.
The author’s brilliant and personalized kaleidoscope of interaction with the different people en route to his destination made me fall in love with this book, a decade back. I still feel this is the best book of the author, in the genre that the author excels in and so I
William Dalrymple needs no introduction as far as his literary accomplishments are concerned. His books have won many awards and accolades and been made into television series. Currently, he divides his time between New Delhi and London.
He is an authentic, diligent, and honest historian and we are carried in too deep historical recesses of these places, which could have been missed otherwise. It is not about rewriting history but we can form a contemporary image of our own, of these places. His in-depth knowledge of art and architecture shines through the book as he travels through these ancient cities brimming with historical monuments.
Readers’ interest in historical travelogues is quite often porous but the book has been packed with a huge dose of humor and which stands out more so often in the form of anecdotes, incidents, and local dialects which makes it a page-turner.
West Asia has always confounded the world with its paradoxical and intricate neighborly relations. One wonders, how tolerance and intolerance, brotherhood and betrayals, fanaticism, and acceptance can reside side by side for so many centuries in a status quo fashion.
Our world is not fair and Jerusalem, the city of peace, the cradle of many religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the holiest place in the world has seen the most bloodshed to date.
History attracts as your mind can play an “action replay “ but the knots of history are not easy to untangle. We as humans will continue to rush towards such “Mission Impossible” as long as challenges would be present to us.
Hope you all had a safe and good weekend
Would talk to you soon
Insights from my topsy world
How to Gut out Poor health – Over view
Ever wondered about the term “GUT FEELING “.Can the Gut feel? We will come to that in a minute
A long time ago, when I started practicing primary care back in the United States, I did so the same way most doctors do: by hearing what patients complain of their poor health (maybe a cough, cold, headache, anxiety, stress, etc.) and prescribing them a quick pill to pop. Results are visibly effective with both parties getting what they want and seeing less of each other. 😉
Heals in the short-term? Yes. Long-term? Not always.
Let me explain.
To the “good health” seekers. Gut works! Over the years of staying connected and updated, I have learned to appreciate the wonderfully designed body we humans have and its capacity to self-heal.
A solid awareness of what is entering and exiting your gut must always be an important consideration. Many of my patients in the US come to me with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and autism. Sadly, it is to do with their SAD or Standard American Diet (no pun intended) and their lifestyle.
- Gut health has significant relevance in irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, metabolic syndromes, and behavioral health.
- Prebiotics and probiotics create better environs for a healthy gut.
- Natural home remedies, via good gut health, can help with weight loss, metabolic syndrome, and related disorders such as Diabetes Mellitus and high Cholesterol.
Now we will dig deeper into some of these conversations and my personal experience.
How to gut out poor health – Part 2
Two sodas a day keeps good health away.
That was perhaps the unconscious mantra one of my patients lived by, ignorant of her lifestyle.
A 70-year-old, white female, walked into my clinic to get treated for irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety. But all her blood tests and colonoscopy were normal. She took multiple medications, but to no avail.
Let us investigate her diet.
For the most part, it consisted of a white bread cheese sandwich for breakfast, ready-to-eat hamburger for lunch, and red meat chops for dinner. She would drink at least four cups of coffee and two liters of soda every day.
She was ONLY suggested for a change of diet with oatmeal for breakfast instead of the cheese sandwich. Fresh vegetable salad, soup, fruits, yogurt, sauerkraut, home-cooked chicken or salmon preparations for lunch or dinner. Alongside this, she was asked to increase her water intake and exercise at least half an hour to forty-five minutes daily.
The results were flawless.
After a few months, not only her anxiety waned but her bowel habits were more regular with less abdominal pain, flatulence, and bloating.
How you may ask? Surely, gut.
Gut, which has more than 100 million nerve cells, also called the enteric nervous system (ENS), is being called the second brain. Multiple studies have shown that treating this second brain can treat your brain. They are both parts of the nervous system and nurturing one, will nurture the other tackling your various behavioral health issues.
Gut health does not bias with age. It is important as much as for babies as for adults. Babies, who are born by natural birth and have been breastfed have more bacterial diversity in their gut. This further gets augmented with diets rich in fibers, whole grain, and fruits in adult life. These bacteria, in turn, produce more butyrate (short-chain fatty acid), which makes the gut lining less porous and hence less entry of toxins in the blood and to the brain, besides having an anti-inflammatory effect and boosting the immunity of the body.
So, the take-home message is, we need more fruits, vegetables, lean meats in our diet along with hydration and exercise. Pre-biotics and pro-biotics create a better gut environment and the key to a better gut microbiome is, greater diversity of bacteria which means a variety of healthy foods.
Holistic and preventative health needs to be our priority in current COVID times and Gut health plays a big role in it.
The gut needs to be courted well and on a long term basis , like a good friend ,spouse or girlfriend for a healthy and happy life.
Gut out. Gut going. Stay gutted.
Gut health has had many exciting breakthroughs in the recent past. We would again touch base soon in near future
(Insights from my Topsy World)
“He who does not understand your silence will not understand your words”
We have shared multiple book reviews on this platform in the past and most instances I have felt “the Nudge “ by those books. I was waiting for that cue, as far as my fiction writing skills were concerned. Ironically, that is yet to happen but in the meantime, I came across this brilliant debut novel and I had this compulsive desire to share it with you.
The protagonist’s single-minded pursuit of “ silence “ of her heroine and his obsessive efforts to solve the mystery surrounding her by unraveling the knots of her mind is worth a read.
Author, Alex Michaelides, commenced his literary trajectory with a degree in English from Cambridge followed by screenwriting. He has written screenplays for the films, “Devils you know “ and the “Con is On “.There was a brief interlude in his writing career by being trained as a psychotherapist. He is of Cypriot – Greek and English descent and currently resides in London.
Psychological thrillers have always touched a chord in me as my patients in primary care have behavioral health issues in multitudes and they are one of the most recalcitrant problems to treat. Navigating the human mind is an ongoing challenge of present-day medicine and medical challenges are always thrilling for me
Theo Faber is a psychotherapist and he is intrigued by Alicia, the beautiful artist, who had gone mute after killing her handsome photographer husband. Alicia had grown up with a mentally unstable family and she has her mental health issues but is an artist of promise and potential and her only communication to the world after the murder, is a painting “Alcestis”
She paints “Alcestis”, the heroine of a Greek tragedy by, Euripides, who volunteers to die for her husband, Admetus, and when” Alcestis “ is brought back to life by Hercules, she loses her speech.
Alicia is committed to a secured psychiatric unit “The Grove” as there are concerns about her mental competence in the court of law.
Six years later there is an opening in the “The Grove” and Theo joins the unit though the unit is on the brink of closure due to financial hardships.
Theo’s endeavors to treat Alicia has an unconventional and obsessive quality to it, while he deals with his mental health issues, drug addiction, and infidelities of his wife. He prefers to “Bury his head in the sand” and refuses to confront his wife about it
Alicia reacts violently to Theo’s psychotherapy sessions but Theo’s empathy for Alicia bordering on to infatuation persists. He patiently and steadily prods ahead with his interviews of the people, who, he thinks could be remotely associated with Alicia’s present state
As a last resort, Theo wants Alicia to start painting again.
I do not want to be a spoilsport for readers by demystifying the plot, so I would let them read it for themselves
All-Pros, hardly any cons
“ The Silent Patient “ splashed on the” Best Seller” world almost a year back and it is still making ripples on all the major bestseller lists. Author amazes us with an amalgam of psychotherapy training and his literary skills
The novel has a perfect opening “Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband “
But the icing is the end when all my deductions and rationalizations come to naught and your “Aha “ moment is way off from the actual story
The greek tragedy “Alcestis” inspired him when he was a school going, kid. His heroine Alicia, the artist, and the murderess undergoes a similar transformation after the intense mental trauma of her unreciprocated love. Besides readers who love literature, it was an added dimension of storytelling which added mythicism and romanticism to the novel
Despite not many crescendo decrescendo moments, the story hurls forward with plenty of twists and turns and the climactic pull is always intact.
The interview sessions, bureaucratic cordons and interoffice politics of the Psychiatric unit gives us a perfect backdrop of the novel
The chapters are short and crisp and dialogues predominate [his screenwriter presence] which keeps up the paciness of the novel.No wonder in most of the reviews of the book, it has been called an unputdownable pageturner
The human mind surpasses supercomputers in its complexities and we are still navigating its mazes. Its defense mechanisms are strong when it protects us from various traumas the mortal world inflicts on us like betrayals, loss of loved ones. But its reactions could be equally varied. On one end of the spectrum, it can be as accepting and forgiving but when the avenger side of the brain predominates, it can be as ruthless, conniving and devious
People are seeking help for their mental disorders if their self-awareness is up to the mark. Mental disorders could be a refuge, a camouflage, a retreat but some times it is a societal threat and if not identified at the right moment, it raises its ugly head in the most catastrophic manner
“The Silent Patient “ has been bagged by the movie makers and I am sure it is going to be a grand success
We are all eagerly waiting for the author’s next venture
Hope to talk to you soon on this platform
Till then keep safe and happy
Blog – Insight from my Topsy World[https://twohomes.blog]
I felt my sabbatical from blogging was like two best friends just drifted apart without any apparent reason. Life commitments took priority in the past few months but true passions always have a way to beckon you back to its folds
Then the Pandemic happened and it continues to dare and humble us. Professional expertise of physicians, researchers, immunologists have fallen off the rails and to date, we have not found a foolproof treatment plan for this menace.
Healthy people with a better immune system tend to fare better in the “Corona Era” and immune boosters are the “new favorites “today. Lots of my patients are very curious about natural ways of healing and they would always carry bottles of supplements besides their prescription medications, for a reiteration from their physician.
I thought a great way to reconnect with you all is to discuss a “Magic spice”, “Turmeric”.
Turmeric has been used in ancient cultures from time immemorial for its multiple uses and it is a staple , even in western pantries, as an important cooking ingredient.
The Mistress Of Spices – TURMERIC- in the times of Coronavirus
Coronavirus made its deadly global debut and we are still floundering to pinpoint a successful antidote. Our blindfolded darts are on antimalarials, nucleic structure modulators, antibiotics but it is emerging strongly that our innate immunity plays a very strong role in preventing worst outcomes.
Turmeric was always held in high esteem in health care of many cultures as a strong immunity booster, for almost 4000 years.
In Sanskrit, it was called by 53 different names identifying its varied physical attributes and its multifarious use. Its brilliant yellow color (a.k.a Indian saffron), silken soft texture, and its multiple roles played as an important immunity booster, medicinal ingredient, cooking ingredient, never let it fade its prominence.
Like everything important and ancient, turmeric has a Latin parental name .”Terra Merrita “ (meritorious earth )-referred to the color of ground turmeric
Turmeric is a product of “Curcuma Longa”-a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the ginger family. India produces nearly all the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80% of it all. There is a city in South India “Erode”, which is the largest producer and trader of turmeric. It is also called the “Yellow City” or the “Turmeric City “
The main life-saving ingredient in turmeric is 3-5% of curcumin.
From East to West
.Our forefathers have known it’s healing powers and was used in concoction mixed with milk or tea or with honey. No wonder its uses are resurfacing as an antioxidant, liver detoxifier, anticancer agent, prevention of Alzheimer’s, pain-relieving agent besides immunity booster, and an anti-inflammatory agent. As per US FDA, Food and drug administration, its clinical trial on turmeric has declared its active component “curcumin” as GRAS (generally regarded as safe ) So in the US, turmeric and its components are currently being used in mustard cereals, chips, cheese butter, and other products
“ Hit or Miss; “Corona and Curcumin “
The perplexing modus operandi of the evil coronavirus has put the whole world on its heels. Globally physicians, scientists, and epidemiologists have been taken to their tasks by the guerilla warfare of the virus. The disease not only wreaks havoc on the lungs and airways but also the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and nervous system. It’s unknown if the virus directly attacks these organs or it’s a body’s wide overreaction of the immune system.
Curcumin acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant. So ideally speaking it should help us fighting the virus infection. But something called ACE-2 is expressed when COVID-19 infection occurs and Curcumin has shown to express ACE-2. This means that curcumin can make us more prone to corona infection
So, where do we stand?
So it seems that though curcumin makes us more vulnerable for catching infections when, one is already infected with the virus, as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, it helps us fight the infection
My Dose or High Dose
Despite 3000 + publications on turmeric and its related compounds, exact dosing has not been found out for any disease process. Typically advised dose is 500-2000 mg of turmeric /day. Turmeric contains 3% of curcumin compared to 95% in commercial extract .when used in the diet , it is 2000-2500 mg of turmeric (60-100mg)of curcumin per day. The same amount in the extract form may pack up to 1900-2375 mg of curcumin.
As per the European Food Safety Authority and WHO, allowable daily intake is 0-3mg/kg body weight. The gut absorption of turmeric is not very good. A compound called piperine, found in black pepper, if taken with turmeric, can increase its absorption by 2000%,
Turmeric has a mind of its own and sometimes it can cause allergic reactions, stomach pains, diarrhea , constipation , nausea, and vomiting in some people. For the most part, if eaten in food at a low level over long periods, it is safe.
As per some studies, it can worsen gall bladder disease symptoms, kidney stones lowering of blood sugars in diabetes, can act as a blood thinner.
To date, Our “Mistress of Spice “ continues to allure us with its mystical properties. It beckons us with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory , antibacterial antiviral, antiseptic , cardio protective, liver, and kidney protective functions and as a digestive additive but confounds us with chemical instability and absence of selective target activity. On a lighter note, it has been called “promiscuous “by the researchers as it can interact with several proteins together which can increase its chances of toxicity.
Turmeric has stood the test of time and if taken in the diet , in a small amount it has proved beneficial for humankind but our understanding of it still oscillates like a pendulum before converging towards any definite answer.
I hope some of the questions were answered about the “wonder spice ” “Turmeric ” and we would chat some more about immune boosters in future .
Exit West – Book Review -Author Mohsin Hamid
In our last blog we talked about Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant ” where it was a fabled world, set in a different era with a very contemporary story Today, I would like to share with you another much reviewed best seller EXIT WEST by Author Mohsin Hamid where the story begins at an undisclosed geographical location possibly Middle East ,considering the names of protagonists and the setting .Their “Geography is destiny” and their life is sad , harsh and transient .But magical realism gives the characters imaginative escapes or exits to a peaceful, picturesque western world .
Author really needs no introduction as he writes regularly for the New York Times , the Guardian and the New York Review of Books . He is of Pakistani descent and has lived in New York and London . I have read his previous two best sellers , The Reluctant Fundamentalist [Short listed for the Man Booker Prize] and Moth Smoke .
“Moth Smoke” was his first work of fiction ,where author analyses the ugly paradoxes of the developing world in which our protagonist begins the process of self annihilation ,like a moth to the flame .
In his second novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist “ protagonist Changez takes an inward journey of metamorphosis and reaffirms his decision of relocation to his Native land of Pakistan from the mirage of abundance and glitz and glamor of America
In his third novel , Exit West , author transitions by exiting to West .
The story “Exit West “ , begins in an unnamed city “Teetering at the edge of abyss ” . Impending taking over of the city by militants is the back drop . Though the residents of the city are trying to maintain a facade of normalcy but gradually they are being stripped off their rights of being a human . Nadia and Saeed , our protagonists , two young people fall in love, in such times .
Nadia though always dresses traditionally “from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch, her lifestyle does not concur with the practices of her society .She lives alone ,rides a motorcycle, supports herself and does not pray .Saeed , on the other hand is educated with a” nostalgic temperament” an employed adult, who chose to live with his parents, as is customary in some parts of the world . They are like any two regular people who enjoy the digital world , try psychedelic mushrooms and explore each other
Tragedy struck when Saeed’s mother is killed by a bomb and Nadia and Saeed has no choice but to leave the city with the usual doubts lurking in back that they would be “at the mercy of strangers ,subsistent on hand outs ,caged in prison like vermins ” .Saeed’s father supports their decision but he himself decides to stay back in the doomed city with the memories of his wife .
Nadia and Saeed are transported though the magical doors to first a Greek island and then to the streets of London and eventually to San Francisco where they are met by thousands of others like themselves , where they are never really allowed to assimilate and each time are thrown away from the mainstream like scum
The ratio of doors opening get inversely proportional to the tensions mounting in the “Nativists” who reaffirm that refuge seekers were the root cause of all their problems
‘”where the division that mattered now were between those who sought the right of passage and those who would deny them”
Physical survival could not maintain Nadia and Saeed’s relationship and Nadia seeks solace by releasing Saeed and Saeed in prayers .
It is a fast paced , tightly edited novel all of two hundred some pages where the climatic pull is enough but in certain parts of the book when author zooms in and out of some incidents happening in other parts of the world , readers could feel confounded .
We might call the theme cliché but yet again author surfs through the book in his unique style that the readers have a lot to interact in the psychic space .The scatter from the main story line some time though disengaging, never completely disconnects the readers .
Author is empathetic and it finds its resonance in its readers .This part of the world has always been that prodigal child, that rest of the world does not know how to embrace , that is an out of bound location, that is so fraught with danger that one would not be able to touch and heal ,that cause where more would always be less .
Author gives a voice to the women of the society by stating that Nadia’s black robes which she did not need to wear even in her own city but she chose to wear till the end is something that when one wants to send a certain signal , could be any body’s choice trying to defy the universal objectification of female form and not always an imposition
Patriotism comes forth when Saeed’s dad refuses to leave the city and wonders if he did go wrong by choosing to be a teacher ,a researcher a fighter and not head west ward towards financial security .
We know in our hearts of hearts that humanity is slaughtered in this part of the world every day but we are happy to be blinded and fiercely protective of our ensconced selves .We prefer to harbor the idea of sharing and caring only in theology and never in practice .This pervasiveness of senseless self preservation just reminds us of the sad times we are in .
Mohsin Ahmad’s books are always a critique’s delight and are extensively taught in writing courses and writing workshops .
Its definitely a reader’s delight and worth reading .
Have a great weekend .
Talk to you all soon .
I just finished another of Ishiguro’s novel , “The Buried Giant ” and I again get this compelling feeling to share it with you all .
This book was written during the times of King Arthur when author found out that there were historical voids so that author could fill those voids with his brush of imagination .
This book is a toil of ten years and was published in 2015.
I have shared with you his previous bestsellers on my blog and author Ishiguro needs no introductions . He is a British author of Japanese descent and is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 2017
As in his past books, we embark on another fabled journey but this time to the ancient world of post King Arthur’s rule where Britons and Saxons are at a never ending war. It’s a world of Kings , knights Ogres ,demons .People still live and die by swords .
In these times ,our protagonists, Axl and Beatrice , poor farmers, who live in a community and are not being treated very fairly by the other cohabitants of the community, decide to embark on a journey to meet their son who is a couple of days away from them .
But a bizarre amnesia has seemed to engulf the whole area and they have all forgotten their recent and remote pasts .This amnesia is to such an extent that Axl and Beatrice do not even remember their son’s face .
So as we travel through the country side ,the valleys ,through the forests and meet many interesting characters we cannot help but compare our present day world to the author’s world in the novel.
The Saxon village where Axl and Beatrice reach to counsel with the lady healer, they find out about the lad Edwin ,who had been rescued by a visiting Saxon warrior from the Ogres .He has a bite mark which the villagers think is from an Ogre and that would turn him against his own people .Superstitions, self centeredness takes over the villagers and they want to kill that small boy .
The warrior, Wistan, is on a secret mission, who has been chosen by his Saxon King to kill the She Dragon Querig ,who’s breath is causing the amnesic mist in the area. Sir Gawain , who is the nephew of King Arthur and is a Knight , has been the protector of the She Dragon .As per King’s wishes ,he wanted the mist to prevail so that foes could live as friends and the senseless war could be stopped .
Axl and Beatrice are an old couple in love with each other and profess their love for each other in every possible manner and would not be out of sight from each other even for a second but when they regain their memory after the She Dragon is killed and mist of amnesia is cleared Axl, remembers that theirs was not a perfect marriage and there were clinks in the armor which he needs to overlook to make his marriage going
As with Ishiguro’s novels there is always more than it meets the eyes and we cannot help but wonder that though we are reading a novel set in the past but we could very much be in a present .We still let illiteracy , superstition ,selfishness drive us
We know ,there is no such thing as infinite justice and we all need this mist of “Forget and Forgiveness for a peaceful coexistence but as in the novel, the strong warrior, Wistan not only kills Gawain but also sows the seeds of hatred ,disharmony ,violence for the next generation through the lad Edwin so that peace never gets a chance and War perpetuates.
Author again draws our attention that we need to keep the bigger picture in mind and let our love be the winner and not hate .
It is a full length novel some times it gets a little repetitive specially the interactions between the old couple and the story looses its emotional pull and pace at some points but all in all there still remains lots of questions unanswered during the read , so one would like to finish the book .
The setting of the story also does not change and we again get to revisit the United Kingdom
Master story teller as Ishiguro is , the language has its distinct flavor and though we are reading simple English we know we are at a different historical era.
Mankind is in the era of scientific boom but we have not changed our basic characteristics and the themes of our stories are ageless ,timeless and generation less . Unless we are ready to Bury the Giant , peace and prosperity would always elude us .Even when Sir Gawain tried to protect the mist of forgiveness we are still pretty much at the mercy of likes of Wistan who see their emancipation only by vengeance, violence and war and unfortunately they are still winning
This blog should have been one of my first blogs as the source of inspiration is not the book but the author .But the inertia lasted longer than I expected as fictions had caught my attention lately .
I am not left out with many hours in a day after my job as a physician and CNN is my constant background companion during my chores at home .On one of these days ,by serendipity , I discovered Fareed Zakaria on Global Public square on CNN in 2012 and since then I have not missed out on a single episode intentionally .
I was simply awestruck by his layman version presentation of the most complex political issues in Global Public square episodes . Oblivious of the twitter storms or Facebook comments his episodes are anything but candor , conviction and courage about his world views .The subjects are truly global . contemporary and well researched
Fareed Zakaria was a bright star since his student days in Yale and Harvard and is considered one of the best analyst of foreign policy, economics and cultural affairs .
“Global public square” is Emmy nominated and he was ex editor of “TIME” .Presently he is columnist at Washington Post and best selling author of “The Post American World ” and “The Future of Freedom” . His last publication was “In Defence of a liberal education “. His books as his episodes are lucid , succinct and purposeful.
The book we are going to touch upon is “The Post American World which is a best seller and was initially published in 2008 . I said touch upon as today the book might seem a bit dated but it is an interesting read as you compare notes in retrospect about the last decade ,its prophecies ,its successes and its failures .The book has many historical anecdotes and reference points which gives an insight about present day affairs .The chapters on India and China are an indepth depiction of its then socio political and economic milieu and how these counties are trying to gain back it’s lost glory .
Post American World was published when America was in the midst of a deep economic recession and the Unipolar world had started taking note of the rest of the world including the rising stars , BRICS with China spearheading it .
The Wars in Afghanistan and Iran had left a bad taste in mouth and America still had an expensive military presence in Middle east with peace not in sight .Unemployment rate was high in the US and outsourcing was a big woe though it left MNCs with a fair share of profit .Middle and secondary education had gaping holes and higher education was leaving a big dent in the financial future of Americans .Middle America was the worst hit with no easy solution in sight .
As per author ,Great Britain was the only historical reference of the past centuries for the US of twentieth century, as far as economic success story and political supremacy goes .The US with its sheer size ,its strong technological base ,stress on meritocracy and unusual strength in turning abstract theory into practical products [Fareed Zakaria] was always way ahead than its counterparts and had emerged as the uncontested Super power, staunch believer of democratic values with stress on free speech . US was the peacekeeper and moderator who the nations of the world could rely on .
The book ended on a positive note in which author was optimistic about this Great nation. As per author, though US is a worrier and this was the fourth wave of concern since 1945, Zakaria was sure this would pass as American system is flexible , resourceful and resilient and it can correct its course on its way if needed .
And America did emerge from this longest lasting recession .
Author did not touch upon President Obama’s presidency and its after math and we are expectant that there would be another best seller on President Obama and after.
President Obama was elected during this longest lasting recession and for the next eight years right economic policies were implemented and country did buoy out
But the expectations of the American people were not met .
And the America that emerged Post Obama was almost surreal , unimaginable . Everything that was deplored in the past was becoming the new normal
This was the Post Obama America
America felt that the world has not been fair to it .Alliances, trade deals ,Defence deals did not mean much to it anymore .It pulled out of NAFTA .Universal health Care which was so painstakingly put together is being dismantled .Iran deal was unilaterally broken with no rational reasons and allies left in a lurch . Land of immigrants were now hating the immigrants and building a wall to stop them from coming . Fair speech is now unfair and there is a new kind of fact called “alternative fact “.People are suffering the “Gun Law” and greed is overpowering the need
America was hit so hard by the recession of 2007 that every thing wrong in the past is right in this post traumatic America .Moral bankruptcy is at its peak and an adversary country is allowed to interfere in it’s elections and may have funded it’s elections . Simply unimaginable
Economic recession of the US is fading away but no one knows what to do with this political and moral recession ! One does get amnesic when times are good but the next decade would bear the brunt of today’s policies
In his book ” In Defense of a liberal Education ” he debates the virtues of liberal arts which I was not very convinced to begin with . No doubt technology and skill based education leads to better prospects and quicker results in life but as we trudge along the trajectory of life ,as mentioned by Zakaria ,we try to find “meaning , fulfillment and happiness “, when futility of the transient world looms large on the horizon
World of literature always enticed me from afar but the pull was not strong enough to think about long term goals . I do not know the transition to another career will ever happen or not and I am till now , pretty much fence sitting, but even the journey this far has been joyous and we know unpredictability is the new norm
Would talk to you all soon
While reading this book , I had often wondered how this interesting and enigmatic association of a British Monarch and her Indian teacher “Munshi ” had escaped the keen eyes of historians. In Hindi , the word “Munshi ” is more traditionally used for accountants of small businesses but this “Munshi” was definitely much more than to Queen
Much has been written about the times of Raj but this unconventional relationship was partly concealed as systematically the evidences were purged after Queen’s death .The teacher and his family were driven away from their homes .All the correspondences were burnt or confiscated and Munshi’s family was hounded upto India to wipe away any residual documents .It was as if the indulgence that the Queen was allowed in her later years was a matter of great shame to the Monarchy and earlier it was forgotten the better it was. Further, the descendants of Abdul Karim had left the subcontinent after partition of India and had settled in Karachi [Pakistan], which further helped to fade away the memories .Post Indian independence ,many historical buildings such as the tomb of Abdul Karim after his death had also fallen into neglect . Fortunately , as the Queen’s journal were in Urdu [Persian script]and they were left alone by foreign historians ,it helped the author a great deal to analyze this relationship .
This book’s claim to fame was its adaptation into a major motion picture [Stephen Frier’s film by the same name ] seven years after it was written .It was initially written in 2010 by Shrabani Basu ,who after majoring in History from St Stephens College in New Delhi trained as a journalist and later joined the London Office of Ananda Bazar Patrika as their correspondent The book was republished one more time seven years later. She has many other books to her credit such as For King and another country ; Indian Soldiers on western Front ;Spy Princess-Life of Noor Inayat khan .The book ,Victoria and Abdul ,was a toil of five years and travel of three countries .
Queen Victoria , was the Queen of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901 . In 1876 , she adopted the additional title of” Empress Of India .Tall handsome ,24 years old , Abdul Karim was presented to the Queen at her Golden Jubilee celebration with the other Indian servants. Abdul Karim worked as an assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail and his father was a physician of traditional medicine .Though he was supposed to be with the Queen for a year but an incredible relationship happened and lasted more than a decade .
Though Queen was titular head ,but had always taken a keen interest in affairs of her Monarchy .She had strategically arranged the marriages of her children all throughout the Europe and was later known as the “Grandmother Of Europe and always had some kind of political influence in the country . But after the deaths of her husband , Albert, and later her Scottish gillie , John Brown , whose ring she took to her grave, she had an enormous emotional void in her life .None of the trappings of Monarchy or the presence of her big family could fill it .
Just at that point Abdul Karim entered Victoria’s life and he had all the qualities that Queen admired .He was soft spoken , well mannered ,gentle ,good looking ,proud of his heritage, learned and aware of current affairs .When Queen met Karim she was in her geriatric age group but that did not deter the Queen from forging a human relationship which even to the insiders including her own children was of the most bizarre kind .
Victoria had been brought up as an epitome of morality and the relationship was platonic to its core but it was a combination of various relationship in one . She was a mother, well wisher, guide ,employer and he was a companion ,teacher ,adviser to her .
Queen ,though did not travel to India but was always very inquisitive about this colony ,” The Jewel of the Empire “.Soon after her association with Abdul ,his influence on her was complete . Not only did she start learning the language but Indian curries were being cooked and attires were being worn in the household .Interestingly , the journals she kept of her lessons were of profound importance as they played a great role to unearth this beautiful relationship.
As far as Victoria was concerned, he was a part of her household and expected other members to accept Abdul .But the schism was much wider than the Queen imagined . Abdul lasted for almost ten years but it was almost a daily struggle for Queen to legitimize his position in the household as for rest of them, he was just a part of the” Black Brigade”
In the book “White Mughals “ , written by Dalrymple ,we have witnessed that in early 18 th and early 19 th century, 1 in 3 British men in India were married to Indian women but as British supremacy got established, it was expected that the relations should be of ruler and ruled .We have to recall that post 1857, subcontinent had officially declared its War of Independence and though it was overtly quenched , covertly the milieu was most inappropriate for a relationship between a White Monarch and her Brown servant .
From times immemorial , unconventional human relationships had been under persecution .These relationships are perfectly legal but are not allowed to be preserved as some unspoken rules emerge from some corner . Rules of convention , Rules of race , Rules of religion ,Rules of color , Rules of hierarchy and God knows many other unheard of rules But the bonds of these relationships are much stronger and they resurface time and again with their whiff of eternity .
As I have mentioned in my previous blogs that I am a great history buff and anything related to history , I cannot keep away from it .In the past ,I have restricted myself to Indian history as relating to it was easy but the book I am going to share with you today is a travel book with its unique historical back drop .
William Dalrymple , one of my favorite authors is an authentic historian , who I have been following for the last so many years .He is of Scottish descent and has won numerous awards for travel writing and extensively researched history .
Author has an intimate connection with India and his affection for the country is real .He has embraced India more than many of us could and through his eyes we have rediscovered New Delhi and India many times over .
His first published book ”In Xanadu- A Quest “ is my most favorite , till date and I have a personally signed copy of the book , when I got it autographed from him at a Mini lit fest in New Delhi ,a couple of years back .I am sure, I would share this book “In Xanadu -A Quest “ in my future blogs ,where he retraces the steps of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Inner Mongolia in China .It is a travel writing full of interesting incidents and anecdotes and is written in a lighter vein and that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable .
In the book “From the Holy Mountain “ we take both an inward and outward journey of the Holy land which was taken by an Orthodox Monk ,John Moschos in 587 AD with one of his young students ,Sophronius .
Author Dalrymple took us on this journey almost 1500 years later .
John Moschos later compressed the journey into a book called “Spiritual Meadow” . John Moschos ,in the book ,mentions about his personnel experiences with other monks ,the various miracle stories ,the ecstatic vision and other practices of Eastern monasticism .Interestingly ,Author Dalrymple ,during his journey found that so many of those practices were still prevalent even today , may be in some modified version .
Dalrymple began his journey in Greece and then via Istanbul in Turkey ,Syria ,Lebanon , Israel and then concluded in Egypt .The journey included a part of Byzantine empire ,of middle ages ,which was considered eastern Roman empire, under Great King Constantinople ,who in his later life embraced Christianity .
Christianity has been historically a middle eastern religion with its origin in Judaism .In the initial years it was practiced in secrecy as it had conflict with Judaism and early Pagan Roman practices .Then the church meant gathering or community , rather than a building or structure .Such teachings or churches were founded by early disciples of Jesus as they travelled to the various parts of the world .
It became legal to practice Christianity under Emperor Constantinople in Roman Empire around 313 AD .His vision was to bring the whole Roman Empire together .But the practices of the Christians in the eastern parts of the Empire were very different than that of the western counterpart .Orthodox Christianity or the Eastern Christians gave more stress on physical and mental ascetism .Such practices also mirrored in Sufism , Vendantic mysticism and Buddhist psychology .
Whereas the head of the Western counterpart is Pope , Eastern Christianity is spread out under various religious heads with individualistic teachings ,in various parts of the World .
As author visited these ancient monasteries, he gave us numerous accounts of how the orthodox monks competed against each other in physical and mental deprivation for a divine connection .It was interesting to note that such practices overlap among the various religions of those times . As per author’s comments, rules for practicing religions were more porous as compared . Even today , people in the rural area of the land of different faiths, during their difficult times , prayed at the shrines of these orthodox monks and performed animal sacrifices .
In ancient days people with money, commissioned important buildings and works of art to give them a societal presence .Similarly ,in Emperor Constantinople’s time the concept of Basilica was gradually taking shape and churches were being built , where people would come together and stress on inner transformation rather than outer ritualistic Pagan practices.
Author has a keen eye for architecture as we have noted in his past books and he describes the monasteries in great details whatever he could as most of them are in states of great dilapidation secondary to antiquity ,violence and no maintenance . But it was amazing to know that few of those which are still in one piece and functional are practicing the faith exactly what they did 1500 years earlier .
In the book “Spiritual Meadow “ ,John Moschos described about the practices of miracle healing by the Saints of those times . Author presented many such instances in his usual tongue in cheek fashion where present day monks are preaching about the Saints .
As we travelled with the author through the modern day cities and onto the remote places of worship ,we noted the political turmoil ,unrest and a constant fear of persecution among the minority residents .Christianity has systematically been routed out from its place of origin and more and more people are moving west wards for a better and secure life .
These areas from time immemorial has been under great strife .Cradle of three great religions of the world ,Christianity ,Islam and Judaism has always been a socio politically disturbed region. Peace never returned to these areas and this journey itself seemed like a challenging adventure .
Amongst the many other present days ironies of the Modern World ,The Holy Land ,has not witnessed a lasting peace for the last two centuries and we really pray for a miracle when the true essence of Humanity and Religion would prevail.
Wishing you all a happy Easter weekend .