Daily Archives: November 21, 2010

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela

This is a rather very interesting & personal book, composed of Nelson Mandela’s vast archive material in the form of letters, papers, conversations, interviews & speeches/recordings he made/written while in Robben Island as a prisoner, after his release from prison & when he was the first democratic elected President of South Africa and the book is titled “Conversations With Myself”. It has been put together by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, dedicated to his grand-daughter who died in a car accident in June this year during Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010 & is foreworded by President Barack Obama.

The book outlines Nelson Mandela’s views among others on leadership & as well as his fallability as a human being : he was quite ‘anxious/uncomfortable’ while in Robben Island that he was being regarded/portrayed as a Saint by some followers/quarters. He does not however regard himself as a Saint even though his definition of a “Saint is a sinner who keeps on trying/repenting”!

This book is an excellent read because of a diversity of material contained : it’s not like a story with a plot or narrative thread. Thus this book can be studied in bits/chunks as you wish with ease without loosing ‘the flow’ of the book. Some of his letters/speeches reflected/presented in this book are in Nelson Mandela’s own handwriting, making this book rather very personal & special (collectable).

Instead of one or two sections of photos in the middle of the book, readers will find copies of some of the actual source documents, mostly written in Mandela’s own hand, every few pages. Several useful appendices are included: a timeline, maps, a list of abbreviations, and list of “People, Places, and Events” which I found to be indispensable.

This book, “Nelson Mandela : Conversations With Myself”, is a highly recommended reading from one of the most famous prisoners in the world, known for his fight for human rights (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), reconciliation & a humble personality (and hence his declaration as no Saint).

For casual readers, no prerequisite reading is necessary to enjoy this book. This is a story born out of confinement but never lonely; a tale of some sorrow but not despair; a message not of apathy but of hope. Mandela’s amazing resiliency is one of the constant factors in this story.

Here is a book trailer of the same:

Conversations with Myself; Mandela, Nelson; Pan Macmillan; Rs. 999

Makers of Modern India: Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha

This is one book that everyone who has an interest in the evolvement of the idea of India must read. Ramachandra Guha, the writer of this book, is known worldwide for his impeccable style of writing. His writing only gets better when he deals with anything that has any interest in the modern India.

This is a book about those Indians who has changed the way India used to be perceived. Guha meticulously researched for this book and the result is a highly readable account of genuine heroes of modern India. The book is about thinking and writing of nineteen thinkers of modern India. 

I started reading this book around four days ago and it took a lot from me – in the sense, when it came to the ideas and thoughts of the nineteen thinkers – right from Rammohan Roy who speaks about Relations between Men and Women to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s thoughts on elevating the depressed classes, it was an eye-opener. The topics that these leaders touch on are varied – from gender, class and to banishing English as a language to Kashmir, Tibet, and Nationalism – it is the variedness of these topics that sometimes lead to contradictory and quite opposing ideas. What I like is the selection of passages, speeches and thoughts that Guha has so skillfully compiled. It touches on almost every aspect and yet there were gaps that could have been filled.

The interpretation of their writings were done by Guha in the context of the then prevailing situations. Though, there is notable exclusion from the book. Not a single Indian Marxist has been covered by Guha. There is no doubt that Indian Marxists are great thinkers, but when it comes to the pragmatism of their high level of thinking, there is none. Definitely, there is not an iota of pragmatism in the thinking of Indian Marxists.

Then, the exclusion of Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the list of makers of modern India is highly contestable. These two definitely changed the perspective and thinking of innumerable people. And, of course, these two leaders were also responsible for making the largest democracy of the world. The reason mentioned by Guha for their inclusion is not sufficient.

Anyway, this is a book which will directly take you in the mind of thinkers who have been covered. Do read this to understand the ethos of India in a straight way and to the point. In a nutshell, this one is a highly readable book by Ramachandra Guha.

Makers of Modern India; Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha; Penguin Viking; Rs. 799

The Confession by John Grisham

Grisham always has a message and in The Confession, he presents, in pure vintage Grisham, his views on capital defense, Texas politics and those that are caught in the conflict on both sides of a murder. I trust Grisham’s thorough knowledge of the law, especially in a southern venue which makes the tale easier to accept and gives me more freedom to judge his plot and characterization.

Donte Drumm is on Death Row, accused of murdering a young, white girl. When we meet him, he has been incarcerated in prison for nine years and his execution is imminent. He confessed to the murder and then quickly recanted but this did not convince an all white jury, and this is Texas, and you don’t mess up in Texas. Grisham hammers us with his disrespect for the Texas justice system and politics.

Robbie Flak is a capital defensive attorney, depicted as a brilliant, volatile man on a mission. He has his own baggage but he fights for those on Death Row; they have no money or connections. These cases can cost millions to defend and since Texas has no public defender system of any consequence, defense attorneys can earn some serious money from the counties who want their death sentences carried out. I found this information very interesting regarding the millions spent on the death penalty.

Two other characters are significant: the Lutheran minister Keith Schroeder and Travis Boyette, the dying parolee who admits to killing the Nicole, the white girl. The families of Drumm and Nicole are an excellent study in tragedy and the decency of some of those involved. Grisham is very clear which family members he respects and the depth of their pain is palpable. Donte’s mother, Roberta, represents the singular pain of a mother’s grief and the barefaced frustration of injustice.

Grisham makes no attempt to hide his political views which helps carry the story, rather than inhibit it. In any event, I trust Grisham’s legal expertise and he still can write a page turner. But Grisham also encourages us with several examples of people doing the right thing despite the pressures of racism, and I cried at one of those examples. A key football game (but then, aren’t they all key games in Texas?) is moved to a new location, and the players show a solidarity for the situation at hand that brought tears to my eyes. And made me want to keep reading.

And in the end, those to me are the signs of a great book, which Grisham has given us once again. Without a doubt, The Confession is a must-read for seasoned Grisham fans and those looking for a story that binds old ideas with the new era.

The Confession; Grisham, John; Random House India; Rs. 299