Deep Work – Some Observations

Random Observations While Reading the Book –


  1. If I organise my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. If instead I get interrupted a lot, what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, there is a bunch of e-mail essages that I have sent out to individual persons. – Neal Stepehnson
  2. 2012 McKinsey Stury – 60% of workweek of avg worker engages in answer emails and googling, 30% – exclusivey spent on answering emails.
  3. Most of them involved in Shallow Work – Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate..
  4. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.
  5. Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow (whether you think it’s philosophically good or bad) is exposing a massive economic and personal opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth.
  6. His method was drastic but effective. “I locked myself in a room with no computer: just textbooks, notecards, and a highlighter.” He would highlight the computer programming textbooks, transfer the ideas to notecards, and then practice them out loud.
  7. Deep work is not some nostalgic affectation of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today. 2 reasons
    1. To remain valuable in our knowledge economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work.
    2. The reach of your product is limitless because of internet. Therefore if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online. To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.
  8. The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
  9. ruthlessly culling the shallow and painstakingly cultivating the intensity of my depth.

Chapter – 1 Deep Work is Valuable

  1. We are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain early in their book. “Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind.” For many workers, this lag predicts bad news.
  2. what makes Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s analysis particularly useful is that they proceed to identify three specific groups that will fall on the lucrative side of this digital divide and reap a disproportionate amount of the benefits
    1. The High-Skilled Workers – Nate Silver, of course, with his comfort in feeding data into large databases, then siphoning it out into his mysterious Monte Carlo simulations, is the epitome of the high-skilled worker. Intelligent machines are not an obstacle to Silver’s success, but instead provide its precondition.
    2. The Superstars – Once the talent market is made universally accessible, those at the peak of the market thrive while the rest suffer.
    3. The Owners – The Great Restructuring, unlike the postwar period, is a particularly good time to have access to capital. To understand why, first recall that bargaining theory, a key component in standard economic thinking, argues that when money is made through the combination of capital investment and labor, the rewards are returned, roughly speaking, proportional to the input. As digital technology reduces the need for labor in many industries, the proportion of the rewards returned to those who own the intelligent machines is growing. A venture capitalist in today’s economy can fund a company like Instagram, which was eventually sold for a billion dollars, while employing only thirteen people. When else in history could such a small amount of labor be involved in such a large amount of value?
  3. How to Become a Winner in the New Economy – two groups that are poised to thrive and that I claim are accessible: those who can work creatively with intelligent machines and those who are stars in their field.
  4. Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy

    1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
    2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

  5. If you want to become a superstar, mastering the relevant skills is necessary, but not sufficient. You must then transform that latent potential into tangible results that people value. To push his current skills to their limit and produce unambiguously valuable and concrete results.
  6. If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.

    Rest in the next post.

Continue reading

Reading List

Old Books Might Repeat


  1. How to get from where you Are to where you want to Be – Jack Canfield
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy : A  Practical Guide – Elaine Iljon Foreman and Dr Clair Pollard
  3. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life – Scott Adams
  4. Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
  5. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
  7. 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
  8. No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
  9. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
  10. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
  11. Super Memory: It Can Be Yours



It has been a while since I have written anything in the platform. The last time I wrote here was a little more than a year ago, and frankly, it cannot be considered as a blog of any sort. I decided to key in my thoughts because of the most natural instinct I am prone to – impulse and procrastination.

Off late I have noticed that one of my defining characteristics has been impulsivity – doing things on a whim. Most of them have resulted in not much damage, and some, I dare say, have been the cause of joy. But as such, I have started growing weary of this impulsive side. It has not resulted in anything tangible. Of course, this raises a philosophical question – do the things you do, need to really result in anything tangible? If so, who set the rules that it is to be in that way. I do not have any answer.

Wait. Do not assume that this blog has a particular structure, a core idea around which this piece of article revolves. There is nothing of such sort. I wanted to say that these are turbulent times. But that would be too cliched. Also that would be false. Because these are the lesser turbulent times considering what lies ahead of me. I am relatively peaceful now. Mainly because of the Delhi winters – best thing about this phase of my life (other than my parents of course).

Sometimes I believe I do not deserve these physical comforts that I am enjoying at the moment. The kind of lethargy, flawed planning, procrastination, and disregard to the realities of life, that I have been displaying, consistently for the past 6.5 years, has made me a very different person. On one hand I tend to believe that I am born to do something great. Something of significance. Something that will alter the humanity. On another hand I am subjecting myself on a day to day basis to the mundanities of my middle class life.

Talking about Middle Class, I came to know that in India, the Rich feel like the Middle Class and the Middle Class feel like the poor and the poor feel like the poor.

With that calming thought that I might be rich and only because of that I feel middle class I end this pointless pointless blog.



Post-Flood Actions

Floods can cause


  1. Water-borne Diseases


  1. Typhoid
  2. Cholera
  3. Hepatitis A
  4. Leptospirosis
  5. Vector-borne Diseases


  1. Malaria
  2. Dengue
  3. Yellow Fever



Cholera –

  • Kindly take care of Cholera as it is endemic to India: the WHO estimates roughly 25,000 cases a year, with a fatality rate of 1%.
  • It is caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated by the Cholera bacteria.
  • Symptoms include profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
  • Common treatment is replacement of lost fluids and electrolytes using oral rehydration solution.

Leptospirosis –

  • In 2005 Mumbai most of the deaths was due to Leptospirosis.
  • Caused by exposure to water contaminated with animal urine: many people had to wade through neck-deep contaminated water to get to safety.
  • The symptoms are high fever, severe headaches, muscle pain, chills and vomiting.

Malaria, Dengue and Other Vector-borne Diseases

  • Caused after 10 – 15 weeks of flooding. Kindly be in the lookout for high fever or vomiting for the entire month.
  • Methods to prevent diseases –

The key to preventing a health catastrophe is basic hygiene: i.e. clean and safe water and toilets.


  • Use clean drinking water.
  • Wash hands well with soap and clean water.
  • Water can also be purified by boiling or treating with chlorine.
  • Wash any unpackaged food in clean water. Avoid any food that may have come into contact with contaminated flood water.
  • Wash all clothing that has been in contact with contaminated flood water.
  • Disinfect all children’s toys that have been in contact with contaminated flood water.
  • Vaccinate against hepatitis A.
  • Wash hands well with soap and clean water.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
  • Put screens on open windows and use nets over beds.
  • Drain standing water.
  • Drain standing water.

Other Hazards –

  1. Electric Power Systems –
  • One should avoid turning on or off the main power while standing in the remaining flood water.
  1. Gas Leaks
  2. Flood debris – such as broken bottles, woods, stones and walls – may also cause fresh wounds and injuries
  3. Moulds and Dust
    1. Can be formed in 24 – 48 hours in wet areas.
    2. Will be present in fans and AC vents and will be inhaled by residents unless properly cleaned.
  4. Wound Infections
    1. Avoid exposure of wound to flood waters.
    2. Cover with water-proof bandages
    3. Clean wounds by using soap and water
    4. Seek immediate medical attention if there is redness or swelling.
  5. Other Preventive Methods
    1. Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent
    2. Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
    3. Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected
    4. Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
    5. Have your onsite waste-water system professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage.



Resolutions 2015. A rehash.

  1. Become knowledgeable in India’s foreign policy and World Politics. –
  • Read the books by Rajeev Sikri (1), David Maloney (1), Muchkund Dubey(1), Andrew Heywood(3) and Ashok Kapur (3).
  1. Make 30 Day Projects and stick to it. ( 30 Day Project is the most wonderful thing that I decided to implement, even though at the far end of the year.)
  • Learn 5 words per day.
  • Complete German Pimsleur 1 2 and 3.
  1. Write 1 good informative article per month.
  • Write at least 2 blogs posts per month in addition to the above mentioned informative article. A Quiz and a Story/Thoughts may be(?)
  1. Maintain a personal journal and make sure to write an entry even if it’s the most uneventful day.
  2. Finish at least 50 books and not 50% of the reading list. 37 of these books should be non-fictions.
  1. History of South India – K A Nilakanta Sastri
  2. History and Culture of Tamil Nadu Vol. 1 Chithra Madhavan
  • History and Culture of Tamil Nadu (Volume -2) (c. 1310, c. 1885 AD) Chithra Madhavan
  1. Social History of the Tamils P. Subramanian
  2. The Political Structure of Early Medieval South India Kesavan Veluthat
  3. The Early Medieval in South India Kesavan Veluthat
  • Trading World Of The Tamol Merchant ; Evolution Of Merchant Capitalism In The Coromandel – Kanakalatha Mukund
  • The View From Below – Kanakalatha Mukund
  1. If possible read Indian Philosophy Vol 1 and 2 – by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us – A Relook

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us

Cover Page of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us by Daniel H Pink

I finished reading Daniel H Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us today and it is one of the best books that takes a reasoned re-look at the existing theories on what motivates humans to do what they do. I recommend it to not just those who are looking for a book on effective strategies to get motivated but also to others who are interested in human psychology.

In short, the book says that the old ideas of Carrot and Stick, of punishment and reward is a defunct system and is not suitable for this era and this age. Instead, he suggests that human beings are primarily looking for Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose once basic monetary benefits are met. Having a iron-fisted control over the work atmosphere is only going to hamper productivity according to Pink. He gives many examples including Google, Wikipedia and another company called Atlassian.

I reproduce here one of the effective methods mentioned in the book, which will take us closer to mastery over our subject of interest. It is to be borne in mind that, as the author notes in the book, mastery is an asymptote – the line and the curve only approach each other, they never meet.

Move 5 Steps Closer to Mastery

  • Deliberate practice is the key to mastery.
  • It is a life-long period of effort to improve performance in a specific domain.
  • Deliberate Practice is much more purposeful, focussed, and painful.
  • Following methods might help in approaching mastery –
    1. Remember that Deliberate Practice has only one objective – To Improve Performance.
      • Do not let it be a mindless repetition of previous practice sessions.
      • Change your performance, set new goals, strain yourself to reach a bit higher each time.
    2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.
    3. Seek constant, critical feedback.
    4. Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.
    5. Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting.


P.S. – Who said Mastery is easy?


Development of Linguistic Provisions of the Constitution of India

Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi

Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi. Source.

First published in Centre Right India.

“There was no article which proved more controversial than article 115 (which deals with the Hindi question). No Article produced more opposition. No article more heat” – Thoughts on Linguistic States, B. R. Ambedkar

Recently a circular was issued by the Raj Bhasha Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, asking Government officials to use Hindi, or Hindi and English, while communicating on social media platforms.etc The circular is based on a decision taken on March 10 when the Congress was in power and is dated May 27, two days before Mr Rajnath Singh took charge as Home Minister. The circular is meant for officials in Category A States which use Hindi as their official language.

Though the subsequent furore was quick to blame Mr. Modi personally in a rather uninformed manner, the reaction that the issue generated among the common public, and the comments by some of the political leaders from the north and the south demands a relook at the constitutional provisions regarding the Official Languages of India and the debates which preceded their inclusion into the constitution. One will be surprised that the language debate happening at present is not much different in its tone and tenor from the deliberations held among the members of the Constituent Assembly. The importance given to the issue can be gauged from the fact that the language question remained a point of contention during the entire length of the period of framing of the constitution of India.

Constitutional Provisions

Provisions regarding the Official Language are given in Part XVII of the Constitution from Article 343 to 351. It is divided in four chapters – Language of the Union; Regional Languages; Language of the Supreme Court, High Court etc; and Special Directives.

Regarding the provisions, Granville Austin comments that “The members of the CA did not attempt the impossible; they did not lay down in the language provisions of the Constitution that one language should be spoken all over India. Yet they could not avoid giving one of the regional languages special status, so they provided, not that there be a ‘national’ language, but, using a tactful euphemism, that Hindi should be the ‘official language of the Union’”

Issue at Hand

The Constituent Assembly had not been separated into distinct factions in its early days since the general sentiment in favour of an Indian language as opposed to English, the language of the oppressor, blinded all other concerns. Not all the provisions whipped up extreme reactions in the Assembly. Only as they set to work did the difficulties become apparent and the split grew in an unprecedented manner. The Language issue was considered important because it affected everyone with the issues of mother-tongue instruction; question of medium of instruction in universities; language of the civil services; cultural and historical background of linguistic groups; religious sentiments.There were mainly two groups – the Pro – Hindi members unofficially headed by Purushottam Das Tandon and Seth Govind Das and the moderate non-Hindi bloc headed by South Indian leaders.


Gandhi to independence

Mahatma Gandhi was pro-Hindustani. Hindustani is a term used for that language which is neither a Sanskritized Hindi nor Persianised Urdu, but a combination of both freely admitting words wherever necessary from different provincial languages and also assimilating words from foreign languages. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajenda Prasad and Abdul Kalam Azad accepted this. In fact, Rajagopalachari suggested broadening Hindustani even further by writing it in regional scripts. The 1928 Motilal Nehru Report also wanted Hindustani to be the common language. It was Gandhi-ji who initiated the idea of widening the independence struggle by using provincial languages and based on his suggestion, the 1920s saw Provincial Congress Committees being formed along on linguistic lines. In 1934 Congress made Hindustani its official language. During this time when Nehru said that “Hindustani was bound to become the all-India medium of communication”, it did not cause any resentment since not much thought went into the role envisaged for English, the status of regional language, languages of court etc during this period.

This reason why the top leadership Congress preferred Hindustani instead of Tamil or Bengali which were more developed at that time and ‘met the needs of the state’ was because it was spoken widely in the north and also, more importantly, the leaders felt that it bridged the Hindu – Muslim divide. This is not to say that the issue did not attract any criticism at all. When Rajaji made Hindi mandatory in high schools of Madras in 1938 there was a violent reaction with slogans like “Let Hindi die and Let Tamil live. Let … Rajagopalachari die.

Independence to Partition

The first sign that language will be a thorny issue appeared when Rules of Constituent Assembly was being framed. It had been generally accepted that the members can speak in Hindi or English or in their mother tongue. A pro-Hindi member Seth Govind Das, took exception to this and said in Hindustani “I want to tell my brethren from Madras that if after twenty-five years of efforts on the part of Mahatma Gandhi, they have not been able to understand Hindustani, the blame lies at their door. It is beyond our patience that because some of our brethren from Madras do not understand Hindustani, English should reign supreme in a Constituent Assembly assembled to frame a Constitution for a free India.” In response A K Ayyar promptly asked that Seth Govind Das’s speech be translated into English for him since he could not understand the content and that he was too old to learn Hindustani at this point of time. Issue was settled, with the members free to talk in the language of their wish.

Next mention of language was made as part of the Fundamental Rights. The draft Rights said that Hindustani in Devanagari or Urdu scripts will be the national language and English will be a secondary official language. Two members wanted Roman to be made an optional script for Hindustani since South Indians were not familiar with the northern scripts. But Patel dropped the entire clause on language saying that language will be dealt with by a higher committee.

Partition to Bitter Debates

Partition was a watershed moment as far as the language issue was concerned. Hindi-wallahs upped their ante against the impure Persianised Hindustani. The question of Hindustani becoming the national language was effectively closed. All drafts mentioning Hindustani was replaced by Hindi. “Partition killed Hindustani and endangered the position of English and the provincial languages in constitution” noted an observer. K. Santhanam, one of the more influential national politician from Madras said, “If there had been no partition, Hindustani would, without doubt have been the national language. But the anger against Muslims turned against Urdu. Hindustani became a bad word after Partition and the party leaders were reluctant to divide the party over it [despite being proponents of Hindustani]”. The Pro- Hindi group did not just stop with that, but made their attacks on English and Provincial languages bitter, resulting in the alienation of popular support for them. Initially there were two main strands of opposition against Hindi group – Muslims and South Indians. Muslims wanted Hindustani in both scripts did not care about English while the South Indian bloc, who wanted English to be retained, was ready for Hindi with Devanagari script as an official language in addition to English.

Meanwhile even the Congress Presidential campaign acquired linguistic overtones with Telugu speaking Pattabhi Sitaramayya and a hardcore Hindi proponent Purushottam Dad Tandon pitted against each other. Tandon contested in the election despite requests from Prasad, asking him not to do so as it might virtually become a North versus South contest. This did not happen and Sitaramayya later won with a slender margin.

By this time the outline of the general demand of Hindi group was spelled out

  • Hindi in Nagari as Official Language
  • English optional during a transitional period
  • Mandatory knowledge of Hindi for entry in to Civil Services while the Hindi applicants should know a provincial language.

Members like T T Krishnamachari of Madras and L K Maitra of Bengal warned the Constituent Assembly of threats from secessionist groups and accused the Hindi group of displaying linguistic fanaticism and ‘Hindi-imperialism’. Nehru who had become more of an umpire rather than a player after the question of Hindustani was shelved supported the moderates. He was lamenting the fact that issue of Hindi was hijacked by language extremists there by affecting Hindi’s chances of becoming an all-India language. Nehru had a clear belief that Hindi was superior to the provincial languages and this is known from many of his speeches. In one instance he says “Everybody knows that obviously Hindi is the most powerful language of India. But it is misfortune of Hindi that it has collected round it some advocates who continually do tremendous injury to its cause by advocating it in the wrong way.”

Final Debate – Numerals

Towards the final days of drafting of the language provisions, bitterness and fanatical statements started emanating from everywhere. Seth Govind Das, President of Hindi Sahitya Sammellan said that Hindi in Nagari must be made the national language of India and that ‘this arrangement was quite in accordance with the nation’s will’. Purushottam Das Tandon said that “those who oppose acceptance of Hindi as national language and Nagari as the single script are still following a policy of anti-national appeasement and are catering to communal aspirations.

During the assembly proceedings, the pro-Hindi group had a large base from Bihar, Central Provinces, United Provinces, and interestingly several members from the South also. Their amendments which gave predominance to Hindi were flatly rejected by the non-Hindi bloc led by Southern members who fervently refused the clause that provided for the progressive substitution of Hindi during a 15 year transitional period when English is used as the official language. But a consensus was taken in a meeting of all the Congress members of the Constituent Assembly that Hindi in Nagari will be accepted as the official language. The status of Hindi with regards to this was never in doubt again.

The sorest part of language issue was when the representation of numerals was discussed. Facetiously speaking, this reiterated that Indians were obsessive about numbers. Non-Hindi bloc mentioned that Arabic numerals (which had its origin in India) should be used for all official purpose. Hindi group protested furiously saying that Devanagari numerals must be used. The question of numerals was so hotly debated that nearly 3 hours alone was spent speaking about it. The debate ended with a 75-74 vote in favour of Devanagari numerals but it was accepted that such a controversial issue cannot be implemented with such a thin margin. This issue was a turning point in the language debates. Austin observes that “The pressure of the extremists, particularly on the numerals issue drove many Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and even Bihari assembly members from the Hindi group into the ranks of its moderates.” South Indian moderates scoffed at the intransigent stand on numerals, and The Hindu called the fight over the numerals “stupid and useless”, which on retrospect indeed looks very much so.

At this time Ambedkar came to the fore-front and suggested that a Language Commission formed after the inauguration of Constitution will consider the question of Numerals and the transitional period of English. Munshi – Ayyangar (MA) formula, which later became the basis for the current provisions of our constitution, had its origin in these suggestions from Ambedkar. MA formula was endorsed by even Patel, who had sympathised with Tandon and group, and who had been annoyed by the southern resistance to Hindi. In his suggestions Ambedkar also recommended that all the Indian languages should be listed in a schedule in the constitution. At a superficial level the reason cited for listing languages in a separate schedule is that these languages were supposed to be the sources from which Hindi should broaden itself. But leaders have later on mentioned that it was out of psychological reasons and to give the languages a status that the languages were listed in a Schedule. “We had these languages listed in the Constitution to protect them from being ignored or wiped out by the Hindi-wallahs.” said a leader.

When the MA formula was finally produced Ayyangar rightly pointed out that it was a compromise between mutually incompatible ideas. In response to MA formula Seth Govind Das said that “Indian had had one cultural tradition for 1000s of years. We do not want it to be said that there are two cultures here.” To which Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader from Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee responded that “If it is claimed by anyone that by passing an article in the Constitution of India, one language is going to be accepted by all by a process of coercion, I say, sir, that that will not be possible to achieve. Unity in diversity is India’s keynote and must be achieved by a process of understanding and consent and for that a proper atmosphere has to be created.

On contrasting this with Nehru’s attitude who said “Although English must continue to be a most important language in India, no nation could become great on the basis of a foreign language. The language India chose for itself must be a language of the people, not a language of the learned coterie. It is the reference to Hindustani that has allowed me to support MA formula. Else it would have been very difficult for me”, it is clear that Nehru had no more interest in provincial languages being given equal treatment than Ambedkar had when he had introduced Sanskrit to be made the national language, so as to douse the ‘jealousies raised by the special status accorded to Hindi’. After much deliberations and resignations from a couple of members including Tandon, M-A formula was passed with 5 amendments among deafening cheer.


1. The Indian Constitution – Cornerstone of a Nation by Granville Austin

2. India: A History – John Keay

3. The Indian Constitution – Fadia and Fadia

Sea of Poppies – Short Review

The amount of research gone into the work is simply astounding. But as a piece of literature its appeal is limited. I would recommend the book only to those patient enough to read 500 pages long of agony and gloom our forefathers have been subjected to. A masterpiece, Sea of Poppies shows what happens when painstaking research over shadows literary flourish.


P.S. – Will write a bigger one later.

Book Review : Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

I rewrote the Review for a magazine, which I think is better than the original review. I am publishing it here in my blog.

The book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire is written by Alex von Tunzelmann, a British historian. Tunzelmann was educated in Brighton and at University College, Oxford. She has contributed to The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman, The Truth About Markets by John Kay, Does Education Matter? by Alison Wolf, and Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence. She has been recognized as a Financial Times Young Business Writer of the Year. Most recently she has collaborated with Jeremy Paxman on his book, On Royalty. Recently, she has begun writing a weekly column for The Guardian entitled “Reel history”, in which she discusses and rates popular films for their historical accuracy. India Summer is her first book and was released in 2007. Red Heat. Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean, 2011, covers the relationship of the United States with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti during the time of the Cold War.

Indian Summer focuses on that period of Indian history when India was fighting a war of its own which had been clouded by the much larger war going on in the world. Our traditional understanding of Indian history is dominated by left – leaning narratives. Most of the books which deal with the ‘Modern History’ of India, usually gains speed with the Battle of Plassey of 1757 which seals the question of Anglo- French rivalry in India. The Battle of Buxar which takes place 7 years later establishes the British as one among top powers in Indian subcontinent. This narrative of Indian history meanders through various ups and downs involving 1st War of Indian Independence in 1857, jumping next to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the Moderate – Extremist tussle, the Surat split of Congress, the 1916 merger and Lucknow pact, arrival of Gandhi, the Non-cooperation Movement of 1922, Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930, the passing of Government of India act 1935 and subsequent formation of Congress governments in various provinces, the Second World War and Quit India Movement, Arrival of Mountbatten, Partition and finally Independence. Nearly 190 years of history is compressed into books of some 500 pages long and is passed off as a thorough look at the various aspects of history; when the authors and readers themselves know that it is an impossible task to capture in a single book, even the various strands of our national movement, leave alone the entire duration from the arrival of British to their exit. It is one of the reasons, why the division of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern, following the standard western practice, makes little sense.

Especially glossed over are those final years of Independence when readers are overwhelmed by the countless number of frantic attempts by both the Indian and British sides to reach an amiable solution to the question of Independence and the then elephant in the room, Partition. Hence we see a series of solutions following one after the other in quick succession: August Offer, Cripps Mission, Rajagopalachari Formula, Desai – Liaqat Pact, Wavell plan, Cabinet Mission and finally the Mountbatten Plan which eventually gets converted into Indian Independence Act 1947. But the amount of painful discussions gone into them, the thought process that went behind the decision, the names of those invisible men and women who held the strings of the political puppets, remain unacknowledged and rightly so. After all, the traditional historians are only trying to present the important milestones of our national movement and not write an encyclopaedia. It’s a different fact that those who were indeed entrusted by the government to write encyclopaedias only siphoned off the funds and later turned up empty handed with flimsy excuses. The curious case of how these very researchers ended up publishing many history books on their own is detailed in ‘Eminent Historians’ by the inimitable Arun Shourie.

One of the more famous accounts of those final days is given in the book Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, which is more of a hagiography of Mountbatten than a serious attempt at chronicling the history.

Among such books, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, with a better access to resources and a relatively novel attempt at narrating the final days of Independence, does stand out. The book is different from others of the same genre in such a way that it is less about a historical period and more about some of the key personalities – namely India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the last viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina Mountbatten – who shaped those crucial moments of our Independence movement. The author narrates incidents from the protagonists’ early days, leading up to the moment of their meeting, the influences they had on each other, how it continued to influence them even post  Independence and how all this inadvertently shaped India’s destiny.

Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on.

As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also recorded the Mountbattens’ activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a mess wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’

Departing from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book.  She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time”

But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be because they do not have personalities as colourful as Nehru and the Mountbattens; but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. When contacted, she responded that she stands by her views on Patel and Bose. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book.

A book which shares similar topic with Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer is Ramachandra Guha’s voluminous India After Gandhi. Though Guha’s book is a work on the Independent India, topics such as Partition, Kashmir, the influence of Mountbatten, consolidation of Princely states are dealt in both, albeit with varying levels of indulgence. Indian Summer has a slight flair for theatrics while India After Gandhi uses a more tempered language, though it is amusing to note that Guha does not mind peddling half – truths about the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘magisterial work’ . Hence while Guha stops with how the Dewan of Travancore Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyer ‘used to launch an excoriating attack on Gandhi’, Tunzelmann doesn’t mince any words and quotes the Dewan that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off  young girls. Like India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra, Tunzelmann doesn’t try to present a picture perfect situation and treads the dangerous territory of the internal lives of Nehru and Mountbatten. She leaves the more bromide way of chronicling to other historians and livens up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”

Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a decent effort, but none the less, admirable.